The Obsidian Collection Archives is dedicated to preserving Black history, memory, and culture through an expansive online collection of documents, photographs, film, and other artifacts. With support from the Trust’s Pre-Development Fund and technical assistance from Community Desk Chicago, this digital enterprise will soon have a brick-and-mortar home at the historic Lu Palmer Mansion in the heart of Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood. Obsidian plans to restore the building and turn it into a museum, library, and archival space. The project will not only beautify a prominent street corner—it will also create a catalytic center for conversation, creativity, and collaboration among journalists and artists.
Founded in 2017, Obsidian’s digital archive preserves Black voices and stories for new generations while earning revenue from image downloads. The collection addresses the lack of representation of Black artifacts in the digital space and hopes to one day be positioned as a trusted source for Black images, similar to Getty Images or Shutterstock. For its media strategy, Obsidian was awarded a Building Collective Power grant from the Trust in 2020.
When the Obsidian House opens its doors in 2022, the archival center will be sharing Black history from inside a living piece of Black history. The striking three-story mansion, completed in 1888, was once a pillar of Bronzeville and home to the celebrated Black journalist Lutrell “Lu” Palmer and his wife Jorja English Palmer. Sitting vacant for the last 20 years, it has been listed as one of Chicago’s most endangered historic buildings by Preservation Chicago.
Angela Ford, Obsidian’s founder and executive director, says the building will be transformed into a vibrant community hub. “Imagine hundreds of local writers, journalists, historians, and archivists having a place to meet, create, and celebrate Black storytelling and Black history,” Ford says. “The building will be filled with Black images and art. We’ll have a library of books for our members to check out and retail merchandise for purchase. There will be opportunities for small events, podcasts, and even archive storage space. Residents of this community will no longer have to leave the neighborhood to enjoy a beautiful space to work, meet, and gather.”
Visitors will have the chance to view photographs that haven’t been seen in decades and art by living Black artists. Donations of historic artifacts, such as the doors from another notable building in Bronzeville and a dining room set once owned by the eminent Black historian Carter G. Woodson, have been secured from community members. Over a thousand books will be given to the library by Dorothy Leavell, publisher of the Chicago Crusader.
The $75,000 pre-development grant from the Trust will support preliminary costs such as architectural and engineering estimates, environmental assessments, and attorney fees. The grant has also helped Obsidian secure a $1.25 million loan to buy the building.
“We’re grateful to the Trust for helping Obsidian create a physical home that embodies our mission of preserving Black voices and stories,” Ford says. “Bronzeville is continuing to write its own story, and we look forward to being part of that story and this community for decades to come.”