The Chicago Urban League was founded in 1916 as a local branch of the National Urban League (organized in 1910 in New York). The Urban League movement was founded to “address the needs of African Americans migrating from the rural south to northern cities in unprecedented numbers at the dawn of the 20th century," a movement now known as the Great Migration.
Early Chicago Urban League programs included social services, job placement, and industrial relations. After WWII, the focus shifted to civil rights, education, and voter rights. The Chicago Urban League was initially headquartered at the Frederick Douglass Center, a settlement house founded by African-American journalist Ida B. Wells and Unitarian minister Celia Parker Woolley. In the mid-1960s, the Urban League purchased an 1893 mansion and remained headquartered in the Bronzeville neighborhood for the next two decades.
By 1982, the group had outgrown their space. Several board members wanted to move the organization into downtown office space, but Jim Compton, president & CEO, insisted on keeping the Urban League located on the south side, and commissioned John Warren Moutoussamy (who also sat on the Board of Directors of the Urban League) to design the new headquarters. The new 32,000 square foot headquarters building was built between 1982 and 1984 at a cost of $2.8 million.