House of Knowledge: Knowledge is Power
Block: 3806 S. Michigan
Time Period: 1940s and 1960s
Issue: Promoting awareness of African and African-American cultural heritage
Frederick H. Hammurabi Robb
The House of Knowledge stood at 3806 S. Michigan and its main objective was to spread knowledge or awareness of African American culture and to celebrate the Bronzeville community’s African roots. The founder and director of the House of Knowledge was Frederick H. Hammurabi Robb, a longtime resident of Chicago. Although he is not someone that immediately springs forward in a web search of prominent Bronzeville figures, Hammurabi’s contributions to the
Source: Commission on Chicago Landmarks African American community continue to resonate to this day.
The curiosity and drive to learn more about his own African roots, Hammurabi set out a mission for himself, he would devote his life to searching for knowledge on African, African American, and Afro- Caribbean history. He wanted to uncover his own cultural roots and once having accomplished this for himself, Hammurabi wanted to spread the knowledge throughout Bronzeville community members. The Chicago Defender, one of the Black-owned newspapers of the time, published updates on the House of Knowledge’s growing database of information and it even featured Hammurabi on its Personality Spotlight of Jan. 9, 1960. In this article, Hammurabi’s travels and education are documented. Hammurabi studied first-hand the realities that people of color were experiencing at the time through his travels, “…from New York down the Atlantic coast to Florida, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Jamaica, Haiti, the British West
Source: Chicago Defender Jan 9, 1960 edition
Indies…Canada, Europe, Africa, other parts of U.S., and Mexico…” (Adams, 1960). Hammurabi brought his research back to the House of Knowledge and facilitated the exchange and dissemination of information amongst community members.
One example of the insights he brought to Bronzeville were his travel summaries; he found for instance, “…although considered a mecca for fleeing slaves more than 100 years ago, Canada today has its color problems, too” (Adams, 1960). He uncovered first-hand knowledge of the plight of people of color throughout the world and shared that knowledge with Bronzeville. F. H. Hammurabi was outspoken about his views on higher education and African American youth. In his article, Have College Students Come of Age, published in the Chicago Defender, he made the argument that African American university students were not being trained to fight against segregation, lynching, and injustice for not only their local communities, but for people of color from other nations. His strong rhetoric is apparent when he stated, “How will [the youth] encourage freedom of speech and press on campuses, how to produce, as well as consume, eliminate individualism for teamwork, as well as clear up dens of vice, get rid of corrupt politicians, quacks of a hundred varieties and save the Race from a perilous and seemingly ruinous future?” (Hammurabi, 1933). Overall, Hammurabi was hesitant to support the notion that youth were being well-equipped by the U.S. educational system to fight against the social injustice that plagued their communities.
F. H. Hammurabi’s lectures, articles and House of Knowledge came into inspection by the FBI on the weekend of September 19, 1942. Hammurabi was arrested during an FBI raid on sedition charges along with the following community leaders: Mabelee Moore, Wm. Gordon, Chas Newby, Mrs. M. M. L. Gordon, Stokely Delmar Hart, Elijah Mohammed, Seon Jones, David J. Logan, and Linn Karriem. Close to eighty-five community members were also arrested and accused of draft evasion. The group had been practicing, “…passive resistance to the American war effort, as a protest of racial discrimination in the United States” (Orro, 1942). Repression by the U.S. government did not stop Hammurabi from continuing the quest and spread of knowledge throughout African American communities. This level of repression only served to prove the power that knowledge holds; it can help communities bring themselves up and fight for their own human and civil rights.
Arrest snapshot Source: Chicago Defender
October 3, 1942
Current View Today:
Although the House of Knowledge is no longer running, the building where it was located has been preserved as a Historical Landmark, the Griffiths-Burroughs House/Quincy Club, by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks due to it being the home of not just the House of Knowledge but also many other prominent figures of the Chicago Black Renaissance.