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In Memoriam: Willie Lee Hart, A True Friend of the Amistad Research Center

Ms. Hart with Amistad’s former Executive Director Lee Hampton during a Chicago Friends meeting in 2010.

Webster’s Dictionary defines the word “friend” in the following ways: 1. A person whom one knows well and is fond of; 2. A person on the same side in a struggle; and 3. A supporter or sympathizer. The Amistad Research Center lost a wonderful and long-standing friend this year with the passing of Ms. Willie Lee Hart. A native of Alabama, but a long-time resident of Chicago, Ms. Hart was associated with the Center for over 35 years and served for many years as the president of the Chicago Friends of Amistad. She joined the Friends organization in 1970 and served as its president since 1985. During that time, Ms. Hart never tired of urging the membership to continue its support of Amistad and was, herself, a sustaining supporter of Amistad through her advocacy, financial support, and donation of materials to the Center’s archival and library collections.

Ms. Hart was born in Uniontown, Alabama, on August 6, 1927, and was the daughter of Willie and Gertrude Moore. The family moved to Chicago in 1937, where she attended Hartigan Elementary School and Wendell Phillips High School. She attended Roosevelt University to study accounting, but developed an interest in medical technology and science. Receiving certificates from the American Society of Clinical Pathologists and the University of Illinois College of Medicine, Ms. Hart managed research labs at Loyola University and the Cook County Hospital. She retired from the hospital in 1992.

Ms. Hart with Capt. Bill Pickney of the Freedom Schooner Amistad after the ship’ arrival in Sierra Leone in December 2007.

Her interest in African American history, particularly the Amistad Case, was demonstrated through her support of the Amistad Research Center; the Amistad Committee of New Haven, CT; and the Freedom Schooner Amistad. She also supported the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, the DuSable Museum of African American History, the South Side Community Art Center in Chicago, and her beloved Congregational Church of Park Manor UCC, where she regularly created informational bulletin boards on African American history and organized church archival workshops.

Throughout the years, Ms. Hart helped to expand the Center’s collections through donations to the records of the Chicago Friend of Amistad. Her own papers documented her interests in Chicago’s African American heritage, her interest in Sierra Leone’s history, the political career of Barack Obama, and her own family’s history in Alabama. Ms. Hart was also an avid book collector, an interest documented in her personal papers and the over 300 books she donated to the Center in 2011. Ms. Hart's book collection ranged from an 1853 edition of H.C. Carey’s The Slave Trade, Domestic and Foreign to a 2010 pamphlet on the Amistad Case. Through Ms. Hart’s generosity, the Center also received a donation of materials related to linguist Lorenzo Dow Turner in 2011.

Ms. Willie Lee Hart (center) is honored at the Congregational Church of Park Manor UCC in February 2012.

Ms. Hart passed away on July 26, 2017. The Chicago Friends of Amistad will hold a memorial luncheon in Chicago on November 11. Ms. Hart will be fondly remembered and sorely missed by Amistad’s board of directors and staff, past and present.

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