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African roots run deep in Evanston’s Fifth Ward, the historic center of Black commercial and cultural life.  

Just a few feet from the noise and traffic of Emerson Street sits Gilbert Park, on a narrow but deep lot, partly under open sky and partly shaded by mature trees.

The playground, benches and chess table echo those in other Evanston parks, but the map of Africa near the center reflects the heritage of this neighborhood. In bas-relief and muted colors, the Nile, the Congo, the Niger, the Ivory Coast and other places limn the ancestry of many Evanstonians.

Friends of Gilbert Park and the Evanston Lakefront and Parks Alliance on July 26 celebrated the restoration of the map. Longtime Evanston resident Carlis Sutton, pictured at right, said the map reflects a “heritage people should be proud of.”  

New enterprises from Simpson Street to Church Street and from Brown Avenue along Church Street near Dodge Avenue, joined longtime businesses, to cater to the tastes of the community.

As with the iconic park map so with the traditional Fifth Ward: the rivers of Africa run through it.