The Black Metropolis Research Consortium: Documenting and Preserving Black History and Culture in Chicago

Exhibition dates: July 25 - September 2, 2022
Location: Special Collections Research Center Exhibition Gallery, The Joseph Regenstein Library, 1100 East 57th Street, Chicago, IL

How can we connect all who seek to document, share, understand, and preserve Black experiences? Making these connections is the mission of the Black Metropolis Research Consortium (BMRC). Exploring the history of the BMRC is the focus of this exhibition.

A woman looks at a photo album
Lisa Calahan surveying Shorefront Legacy Center collections for the BMRC’s Survey Initiative, 2010 (Courtesy of the Black Metropolis Research Consortium)

The BMRC is a Chicago-based membership association that aids in expanding access to its members’ holdings of materials that document African American and African diasporic history, politics and culture, with a specific focus on materials relating to Chicago. Members include universities, libraries, museums, and community/arts-based and government archives.

The BMRC was founded at the University of Chicago, which serves as the consortium’s host institution. In 2003, faculty members at the university started discussing and devising ways to address a common problem–difficulty accessing African American archival materials in Chicago that were essential to their research. Among these faculty were Danielle Allen, then a Professor in Classics, and Jacqueline Goldsby, then a Professor in English Language & Literature and the College.

Over the next three years, a series of meetings took place between University of Chicago faculty and archivists from area institutions with significant African American holdings, including the Chicago Public Library’s Vivian Harsh Research Collection, the DuSable Museum of African American History, and Columbia College Chicago’s Center for Black Music Research.

Photo of Danielle Allen
Danielle Allen, 2020 (Photo by Laura Rose, Courtesy of the University of Chicago)

Through these discussions it was decided that the best course of action for addressing the many factors that hindered accessibility to collections would be an active collaboration among institutions, archivists and researchers. These discussions resulted in several multi-institution archival initiatives: Mapping the Stacks, Uncovering Chicago Archives Project (UNCAP) and the Black Metropolis Research Consortium. The BMRC was initiated in the spring of 2006 at a meeting of chief executives and representatives from fifteen Chicago area institutions who supported the formation of a collaborative effort to make African Americanist collections more broadly accessible to researchers. Danielle Allen, then Dean of the Division of Humanities at the University of Chicago, led the meeting. The BMRC was formally launched on July 1, 2006. This exhibit documents the origins of the BMRC, its efforts to aid discoverability and access to Black historical collections, and the consortium’s flagship Summer Short-term Fellowship for scholars, artists, writers, and public historians and Archie Motley Archival Internship for students.


Marcia Walker-McWilliams, Executive Director, Black Metropolis Research Consortium

Photo of Horace Cayton, Jr.
Horace Cayton Jr. 1945

A photo of Horace Cayton, Jr., one of the authors of "Black Metropolis," 1945. (Courtesy of Chicago Public Library, Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection)

Page reads Black Metropolis by Horace R. Cayton and St. Clair Drake, Jonathan Cape, Thirty Bedford Square, London
Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City

An image of the 1945 edition of Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City. (Courtesy of the Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center, The University of Chicago Library)

A gathering of BMRC fellows
BMRC Summer Short-term Fellows Reunion and National Gathering of African American Studies Friday Panels, 2018 (Courtesy of the Black Metropolis Research Center)

Visiting the Library

The University of Chicago Library has reopened Regenstein, Mansueto, Crerar, and Eckhart libraries to visitors—including alumni, partners of UChicago users, researchers from affiliated institutions, and visiting researchers and members of the public. In order to provide broad and safe access to the Library, visitors will be asked to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination, consistent with University policies and protocols. For more information, please visit this Access page.