Urban historian Shermann “Dilla” Thomas, known for his popular social media videos detailing lesser-known Chicago history, is offering in-person history tours during this year’s Juneteenth weekend.
Juneteenth refers to June 19, 1865, commemorating the day the last enslaved Africans in America learned they were free.
“When I started doing the history lessons on TikTok, a lot of people started saying, ‘Hey, you should do tours in person,’ ” says Thomas, who lives in Auburn Gresham. “I thought that was a way to get the former residents of the South Side who left via white flight or blockbusting — they’re always in my comment section talking about the old neighborhood, but they don’t come back.
“I would like to see them maybe come back and explore the neighborhood, get some feelings of nostalgia, and shop here.”
The bus tours, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, are being offered through Chicago Mahogany Tours, founded by Thomas and three of his Omega Psi Phi fraternity brothers — on June 19 and 20. The Saturday and Sunday tours are sold out.
They’re starting from the east parking lot of the DuSable Museum of African American History, 740 E 56th Pl., with stops including:
- The Wabash YMCA — the birthplace of Negro History Week, which later became Black History Month.
- Chess Records.
- The South Side Community Art Center.
- First Church of Deliverance.
- The Eighth Regiment Armory;.
- And the home of Margaret Burroughs, the artist and co-founder of the DuSable Museum. Her house was the museum’s original home.
The popular videos posted by Thomas, whose late father was a Chicago police officer, have been getting a lot of attention. The Chicago Police Department posted one of them on its Twitter account. And thanks to them, he met Chicago historian and educator Timuel Black, one of his heroes.
“At first, he was testing me to see if I’m for real or not,” Thomas says. “After 20 minutes, he saw that I knew some stuff.”
He says he gets requests now for things to cover in his videos.
“I really appreciate that because Chicago has so much history, and I don’t know it all,” says Thomas, who has posted videos on the history of the Moo & Oink Meat Company, Dibs and the city’s violent taxicab wars of the 1920s, among others.
Thomas works at ComEd as an area operator and says his employer is supportive of his side endeavors, which includes plans for more tours July 3 and 4 as well as tours about the Chicago Race Riot of 1919 and the city’s architecture.
More information on the tours can be found online at evitebrite.com.