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Black History Spotlight | Shermann Thomas

Black History Spotlight | Shermann Thomas

Chicago is a city full of history, and true Chicagoans know that there is a richness here in the city that is often hidden because much of it involves the Black residents and their contributions to making Chi-town as amazing as it is. Shermann Thomas aka “Dilla” is one of those Chicagoans, and he’s been making a name for himself. Specifically as the Chicago History guy, 6FiggaDilla.

Photographer: Mary Mathis for The Washington Post

I first came into the knowledge of Thomas on Twitter when someone retweeted his statement about ‘dibs’ in our city. The thread became a perfect example of Chicago constructs and who thinks what is stupid. I may have rolled my eyes at some of the replies – full transparency, I’ve been known to find owners of cars and have the car removed from the spot my husband shoveled after massive snowstorms. It’s a custom here in the city and one that seems to be respected heavily in certain areas of the city.

If you’ve never shoveled FEET of snow from a parking spot only to come home to see another car brazenly parked in the spot you worked so hard to clear, your head can implode. But we’re talking about Shermann Thomas here, not my parking issues.

Here’s the history behind dibs and why they’re respected by so many of us.


#answer to @im_siowei Winter is coming 😂🤦🏿‍♂️🤷🏾. #Chicago #chitown #dibs #chicagohistory

♬ original sound – S. Dilla Thomas

While doing research on Thomas, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities in growing up that we’ve had. Both of our fathers made sure that we could recall the grid that makes up Chicago. From what hundred North, West, East, or South we were, to the names of the neighborhoods we were entering, it was a right of passage. I wasn’t able to drive the family car unless I knew where the heck I was going. My dad didn’t want me in places where I couldn’t recall quickly. It was fascinating to see him navigate the city and to also see my Grandpapa do the same thing. They knew it like the back of their hands and it was something of bragging rights that we all had. Shermann’s father was a cop here in the city while mine has been a bus operator for more than two decades. Two careers that require a deep knowledge of the grid.

Shermann Thomas

Shermann Thomas
Credit Manuel Martinez/WBEZ

I happened to marry someone who is almost as good as I am (this is my media site, everything I say is the law) with navigating this city and state, and I think that we both have a secret competition to see who knows what better.

Thomas took his learning of the streets of our city to a new level. He started learning the history behind everything. Another characteristic that we share would be our intense research of subject matter that enthralls us. I love seeing people REALLY geek out over things. It reminds me of the pure innocence that children have when they find out all they can about dinosaurs, the planets, horses, or Roblox. Thomas also makes sure that the information that he is sharing is airtight because WE know how folks come and try to fact-check people and WE AIN’T ABOUT THAT LIFE. Ahem, I mean, he doesn’t like being wrong when sharing information, and I completely know what that feels like. It helps keep folks honest when the information they have is reliable and fascinating.

Thomas has been hosting tours of the Chicago neighborhoods – specifically on the Southside because most folks don’t travel past Cermak Road who LIVE here. We’re Southside transplants – and I still wear my WESTSIDE love fully – but I agree with Thomas’ assessment. There has always been something to be said about going too far South or West for that matter. These days, the Westside of the city is looking less Black and more gentrified, so folks aren’t as afraid to walk those streets. Through his tours, he shares local history and helps Chicagoans and tourists alike discover more of the Southside outside of Beverly and Pullman. Both heavily white and affluent. It’s not accidental for sure.

It’s hard to be the lone voice in spaces like this. Black History is American history and Chicago History as Thomas says is American History as well. I’m just proud to be from the ‘GO.

You can find Thomas on his site and book tours through Chicago Mahogany or on TikTok for his 60-second history lessons.

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