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It took nearly a half hour for the excitement to ebb enough for the honoree to make his way to the corner of Church Street and Gray Avenue, where the honorary street sign Morris “Dino” Robinson, Jr. Way awaited unveiling.
Mr. Robinson, co-founder of Shorefront Legacy Center, has given life and vibrancy to Black history in Evanston and on Chicago’s North Shore.
“There are people who work hard,” said Shorefront Board President Chip Ratliff to the crowd of about 50 who began gathering just after noon on April 3 for the 1 p.m. ceremony.
“There are people who have a vision. There are people who strive. And then there’s Dino, with all of these.
“Dino started this. He walked into an area historical society and asked to see the information on local Black history. This was in 1995. They brought out a file with three manila folders marked ‘Colored’ – in 1995.
“He wrote a book [“A Place We Can Call Home”], another book [“Through the Eyes of Us”], another book and [many] articles.” Mr. Robinson’s third book is “Gatherings: The History and Activities of the Emerson Street Branch YMCA.”
Mr. Ratliff continued, “There are 250 linear feet in the Shorefront collection.
“Dino has a vison, and it’s simple: Black history should be common knowledge. Black kids should know that we weren’t just slaves – we contributed.”
Mayor Stephen Hagerty said, “It’s a proud day. … The fact that Dino has dedicated his life to collecting the stories of Black residents in Evanston and the North Shore and Chicago is something that everyone will value for the rest of their lives. We all have a life story. We don’t know what impact that life has made. … That’s what you can learn at Shorefront.”
Robin Rue Simmons, alderman of the Fifth Ward, where Mr. Robinson lives, said Mr. Robinson’s archiving stories and his research “made it possible for us to do our reparations work.”
She also said, “What Dino has done for us, the Black community in Evanston, is create a sense of place … He came here and saw a rich people and a rich history.”
Mr. Robinson thanked his parents for moving to Evanston. “They came here and made themselves part of the community. I learned from my parents and grandparents.”
In Evanston, he said, “I saw a rich and vibrant community of entrepreneurs, movers and shakers taking up against the odds.”
He also thanked his wife, Claudette, for her support, mentioning that it was her desire to reclaim her dining room table, and more, that spurred the Shorefront Board into finding space for the collection.
“When I talk to kids at Evanston Township High School,” he said, “they may want to have a car when they’re 17. I tell them, ‘At 17, Fred Hutcherson had his own plane, and he flew it here.’
“Many people don’t know that [Evanstonian] Nellie Conley – stage name Madame Sul-Te-Wan – became a professional extra in more than 100 movies – even playing Dorothy Dandridge’s grandmother [one of the few parts in which she was given a speaking role].”
Looking up, he said, “Tina Lifford.” The noted actress, also an Evanstonian, shares the honorary street name with him.
“I’m honored to be a part of the vibrant historic community that welcomed me and shared their stories.”
Geneva Hallen, Shorefront Board member, said she attended the ceremony “to honor Dino. I think I’m going to cry. … It’s so well deserved. And we’ve got a perfect day.”