William Twiggs’s barbershop and print shop honored as an African American heritage site


Courtesy of Shorefront Archives

1619 Sherman Avenue, the former location of a barbershop and later a print shop run by William Twiggs.

Jack Austin, Reporter

The former site of William Twiggs’s barbershop and later printing press has been honored as one of eight African American Heritage Sites.

The shop, once located at 1619 Sherman Ave., has since been replaced by a multi-story office building.

Twiggs came to Evanston in 1884 when he was 17, according to Dino Robinson Jr., founder of the Shorefront Legacy Center. Robinson said Twiggs was respected in the community and people came to him for advice. When black kids could not attend the white YMCA in downtown Evanston, Twiggs raised money from businesses to build a black Y.

Twiggs owned a barbershop and a print shop that published the Afro-American Budget, which had social commentary and a nationwide circulation. Twiggs also published the Reporter and Directory, a paper with local Evanston news, from 1905 to 1910.

Twiggs also contributed to the community as an active Ebenezer AME church member, a church he helped found, according to his granddaughter Katy Walker. She said that there is stained glass with his name on it inside the church.

“He was just a giving person. It was always about his community, it was never about him,” Walker said. “Community was important for him. He was a real business man. He knew how to get things done.”

City Council named eight African American heritage sites on June 22. Robinson has been working with the city to establish these locations as historical sites.

“It’s going to be a medallion embedded in the sidewalk. That’s actually what we are doing with all of the sites we have,” Robinson said. “We’re still in the process of deciding what that marker will look like. Some of the sites are no longer there. We hope to have a public ceremony at the site once the marker is installed. “

The plaque that will be imprinted into the sidewalk has no set opening date as the city struggles with a potentially more than $10 million deficit amid COVID-19. Ald. Robin Rue Simmons (5th) said the budget may not prioritize the heritage sites, but donations earmarked for the sites could accelerate the process.

Along with the plaque, Robinson said that Shorefront is working on an interactive website with a map of all of the heritage sites.

Robinson hopes the marker will be installed by the end of the year. Twiggs’s legacy has already been honored before in Evanston, with the William H. Twiggs park.

Rue Simmons saw the heritage sites as part of a reparation process, and hoped local black history would be included in school curriculums.

“We have an opportunity for the broader community to see a significant black entrepreneur who in his time overcame many barriers, many restrictions, lots of limitations and discrimination,” Rue Simmons said.

Walker said she only had a few memories of the man before he passed away when she was 9.

But she does remember him as a generous family man. He used to give her a nickel to get ice cream down the street. Walker said she first really recognized the importance of her grandfather when she read a book about Evanston and found his name in it. With the upcoming heritage site, Walker said she is excited and proud.

“I remember his big printing press. And I learned how to work one. It was dirty, but I learned how to work one. (I’m) proud that I am a product of the Twiggs family,” Walker said.

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Twitter: @JackAustin10

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