Local historian publishes book about Sioux City’s African American history

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (KCAU) — Sioux City African American history dates back to the 19th Century, but it wasn’t until 2023 that it was put into one book.

“I think Toni Morrison said ‘If there’s a book that hasn’t been written, write it.’ And that’s what I did.” Videographer, Photographer, and Historian Jim Tillman said.

Back in 2013, Tillman took it upon himself to do something no one had done before: write a book about black history in Sioux City.

“After going to the Sioux City Public Library and seeing what the limits were, you know there wasn’t anything on Sioux City African American history.”

In 2023, Tillman published the first book documenting the history of African American culture in Sioux City. A history that began in 1804 with a young African American named York who made important contributions to the Lewis and Clark expedition. York was the first African American to enter the Siouxland area.

44 years later John Brazo, became the first African American to take residence in Sioux City. 175 years later, more than 3 thousand African Americans call Sioux City home.

“My grandparents, they migrated here from the south, so Sioux City was a great place to stop, to come to from the south. A lot of people, blacks, that came to Sioux City, they got educated in Sioux City and went west to California for greater opportunities. But Sioux City will always be home.”

Tillman’s book chronicles the people and places that contributed to the cultural roots of his birthplace

“There’s some encouraging stories in there that can inspire any population. Of perseverance, of overcoming obstacles. And they’re going to learn about a lot of people.”

Tillman wrote the Journal of African American History – Sioux City, Iowa, to reach audiences of all ages and races with the hope that each reader takes away something they had not learned before.

“They’re going to read that and a lot of times they’re going to learn about themselves. We all have these different prejudices, or different thoughts and preconceived ideas of certain people. But you read my book and you’ll see that a lot of the stories are similar to anybody else’s story.”

With every story that’s documented, we’re shown a glimpse of black history that expands larger than the Siouxland area.

“It’s Sioux City African American history, but it’s still a Sioux City story. Which makes it an Iowa story. So we all learn in this and the more we learn about each other the better.”

With the rich history of black culture in his hometown, Tillman is already expanding the journal of African American history with a second volume and new stories to share.

“I just think it’s about sharing stories and we learn from each other when we share stories.”

Tillman is currently working on a history by the decades series documenting Sioux City’s black history starting in the 1950’s.

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