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Inquiry Question

Historical Context



Drawing 1
Photo 1
Photo 2
Drawing 2


Table of

Visual Evidence

Photo 3: Overton Hygenic Building, 1927.
[Graphic] Photo 3 with link to higher quality drawing.

(The Negro in Chicago, 1779-1929, Washington Intercollegiate Club of Chicago, Inc., 1929.)

Anthony Overton's firm, which manufactured and sold cosmetics to African Americans, was well known across the nation. In 1922-1923 Overton erected the Hygenic Building at 3619-27 S. State Street as a "monument to Negro thrift and industry." Born of former slaves in Louisiana in 1865, Overton graduated from the University of Kansas in 1888. He ran a general store in Oklahoma and eventually established a cosmetics company in Kansas City. In 1911 he moved the firm to Chicago where his success expanded to other businesses, including a bank and an insurance company.

Each floor of this building was used for a different purpose. The cosmetics manufacturing took place on the top floor while other aspects of the business, including sales, accounting, and advertising, occupied the third floor. The second floor held the Victory Life Insurance Company as well as rental space for professional offices. The first floor housed a drug-store, the Douglass National Bank, and other commercial ventures. In 1929 Overton claimed that the Douglass Bank was the largest bank "in the United States owned and operated by colored people." It had about 64,000 depositors residing in 30 states.

1) Why did this building house so many different businesses?

2) Why would out-of-town people have used Douglass Bank? How do you think they would have known about this Chicago bank? (Keep in mind that white-owned banks often would not make loans to black businesses.)

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