Chicago, IL –
Shermann Thomas was always a curious kid. Growing up on Chicago’s South Side as the son of a police officer, he was constantly asking questions about the work his dad was doing. Whether it was serving on Harold Washington’s bodyguard detail or fighting racial bias in the police academy, his father Lemar Thomas never let Shermann slide with an easy answer. Now, as a dad himself, he is taking that love of knowledge and spreading it to the next generation via 60 second TikTok videos explaining the hidden history of Chicago.
“I would try to use [my knowledge] to impress people, but mostly my father,” Thomas said to Block Club Chicago in an interview in May. “It would become a free-time thing. I’m not saying I sat in the house all day reading encyclopedias. But I’ve always been the type that, when I have a question, I have to figure it out before I can move on. I get enthralled by those types of stories. It’s like a rabbit hole.”
What began with his father asking him where different streets in Chicago started and stopped (this was before GPS) developed into a deep knowledge of how the City fit together. While completing a final project in school that required him to walk the whole of the 8 miles down King Drive and learn about the Bronzeville Walk of Fame, he often wondered what it would take to get a bronze plaque somewhere forever. “You get to those stories and you realize that Chicago is just a city of stories,” he said to Block Club.
This weekend, Shermann Thomas is going to get the opportunity to tell those stories in person as he leads the first of what will hopefully be a successful new permanent historical tour of Chicago. He founded Chicago Mahogany Tours with two of his fraternity brothers last month shortly after he started gaining traction with his videos on TikTok. Many walking tours of the lakeshore or the loop have entertained thousands of visitors over the years. This seems to be the first to focus on other areas of the city that have been overlooked in the past, but are no less historically important to the fabric of the City and the Great Lakes region. Mr. Thomas wants to change that.
“Before I got on there, you type in Chicago history, and it was like someone explaining why some other dude got shot by this dude and beefing,” Thomas said to Block Club. “I understand that that goes on…but that isn’t Chicago history.”
The tour kicks off this Saturday June 19 with a morning and afternoon slate (from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.; and 2 to 4:30 p.m.) throughout the weekend. Passengers will board a bus in the east parking lot of the DuSable Museum of African American History, 740 E 56th Place. Saturday has sold out already, though tickets are available for Sunday morning.
History can be abstract, a list of dates and names and bronze plaques placed in concrete. But to Shermann Thomas, this work that he is doing is personal, a way to remember his father and for his children to remember him.
“If you’ve ever seen most of my videos, my father is behind me,” Thomas said to Block Club. “I have a picture of him on the wall behind me in the frame. I always keep him in mind…I want my kids to be chasing my legend like I’m trying to chase my father’s. All of it is about that and him.”