Chicago TikToker shares city’s history in viral videos

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CHICAGO — A Chicago TikToker is sharing facts and history about the city in videos that have now gone viral.

Shermann Thomas’s 8-year-old daughter was posting dance routines on the app when he suggested she post facts about Chicago instead. She wasn’t interested in the idea so he started posting his own. His first viral hit was a minute-long history on Lower Wacker Drive and from there, his account continued to grow.

The life-long resident is telling the city’s stories and reaching a younger audience by posting short videos that he heavily researches.

“History matters and it’s not this boring stiff thing that we are used to,” he said.

Thomas grew up in Auburn Gresham. His father was a Chicago police officer and before that, a CTA bus driver. His mother was a nurse at the University of Chicago Medical Center in the oncology department. The family grew up in a traditional Chicago bungalow.

His father was on the frontlines of history. He served on the security detail for Harold Washington — Chicago’s first African American mayor. It sparked his curiosity.

“I was a Chicago park district lifeguard,” Thomas said. “We used to have get a uniform from Diversey Beach House. [I wondered] why does this dude Diversey have this big street?”

And so he researched the question. And he did so with the other things he was curious about. His first idea for a video was on the origins of time zones and

He first got the idea for tiktok videos from his 8 year old daughter… and his first idea was the origins of time zones at Jackson Boulevard and LaSalle Street.

“I did that in a video and people loved it, so I just kept doing them,” he said.

Thomas says each subject is carefully researched and fact-checked.

WGN asked him what his favorite historical spots are in the city. He said the first was Unity Hall on the 3800 block of South Indiana Avenue.

“It was formerly a neighborhood association for Jewish gentleman,” he said. “When the neighborhood demographic shifted, they didn’t price gouge Oscar de Priest. They sold him a place that was well-maintained.”

Oscar de Priest would make Unity Hall a community house-working from there to mobilize black voters.

“Everyone in Chicago can say the names of Al Capone and Elliott Ness. Oscar de Priest was the only African American congressman for three terms there,” he said. “I think that’s very important and it’s motivational for the people who live here.”

His next favorite location is a spot in the South Loop where John Jones, a former tailor for slaves, amassed a fortune. His home became a station for the Underground Railroad.

“This area is considered a Chicago landmark in honor of the Jones family, but there is no landmark here at all. How would anyone know that?” he said.

Some neighborhoods have seen drastic changes over the years but Thomas sees the value in knowing the roots.

“I think people would benefit from knowing that African Americans helped preserve the area,” Thomas said.

His day job for ComEd has him traveling all over the city and he see the threads that connect the residents — in past and present.

Thomas is now doing two-hour city bus tours.
His Fourth of July tour will visit armories on the South Side and a Confederate mass grave.

You can find information for Tours by Dilla on Eventbrite or follow him on Twitter.

You can follow along with Thomas’ history lessons on TikTok and Instagram: @6figga_dilla

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