Beginning in 1915 and continuing until the year 1970, The Great Migration was the largest mass movement in American History with around 7 million blacks leaving the south and moving north and west (WTTW). “The Great Migration had such an effect on almost every aspect of our lives — from the music that we listen to to the politics of our country to the ways the cities even look and feel, even today,” says Isabel Wilkerson(NPR). Chicago was highly considered as the destination to become successful and thrive to southern blacks. It seemed to have everything that one could ask for during the time: good paying jobs, homes with the basic necessities for living such as running water, and basic freedoms denied to blacks in the south. One big promoter of encouraging blacks to come to Chicago was the newspaper founded by Robert S. Abbott on May 5, 1905, The Chicago Defender. Starting in 1916, Chicago’s leading black newspaper published stories about southerners who were successful in looking for a new and better beginning in the city. If the immigrants needed help looking for houses, jobs, or travel, they could look in the paper for a list of churches and other organization that they could write to for help. . When you visit a neighborhood in Chicago, you can really feel and see the history behind it if you pay close enough attention. In Bronzeville, I had gotten a very African-American-esque culture vibe. I saw plenty of magnificent artwork, the location of a former jazz club, and an African-American walk of fame consisting of iconic men and women from the area such as civil rights activist Ida B Wells, poet Gwendolyn Brooks, and astronaut Robert H Lawrence, Jr.
Before The Great Migration, The neighborhood of Bronzeville was a part of the land that Stephen A. Douglas bought in 1852. Douglas was an American Politician and the leader of the Democratic Party. In 1846, Douglas was elected to the U.S Senate and served until his death in 1861. He is particularly known for his idea of popular sovereignty, which stated that the people in a territory would themselves decide whether to permit slavery within their region’s boundaries. Douglas’ early death was partly the result of him defending the Union during the Civil War, as he was very proud to be apart of the north and when the south seceded he labeled it as a criminal act. Located at 636 E. 35st in Bronzeville, Chicago is the Stephen A. Douglas tomb. The tomb is beautiful and is located in its own little yard/garden. Unfortunately when we arrived there, both of the gates were locked and therefore we weren’t able to go inside.
By 1881, the city’s prominent Jewish families built a hospital with $200,000 from the estate of Michael Reese, who was a wealthy real-estate developer that died in 1877 and his will provided the sufficient funds to build the new hospital. Then, in 1890, at 33rd and Indiana, the Jewish community in the area finished building the Kehilath Anshe Mayriv Synagogue that was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Ever since 1922, the synagogue has house the famed Pilgrim Baptist Church. The Church is deemed as the “birthplace of gospel music”. Aretha Franklin, Reverend James Cleveland, Edwin Hawkins, Mahalia Jackson, Albertina Walker and The Staple Singers all sang at the church. The Church is also famous for the funeral of legendary heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson, and for being the location that Martin Luther King Jr. gave sermons during the civil rights movement. Unfortunately, on Jan 6, 2006 a fire erupted upon the church. Many murals and historical records were lost in the event. Today, there are only three of the walls remaining and there is no roof or back to the structure.
Also located in Bronzeville, are the Victory Monument, the Bronze map of Bronzeville, and the Bronzeville Walk of Fame. The Victory Monument was erected in 1927 “to honor the achievements of the Eighth Regiment of the Illinois National Guard, an African-American unit that served in France during World War I as part of the 370th U.S. Infantry.”(Jyoti, Victory Monument). The original sculpture did not include the soldier on the top of the monument. It was later added in 1936, and was dedicated to all of the African-American soldiers that were killed in World War I. Located across the street from Victory Monument is the Bronze map of Bronzeville (man is this thing cool).
This 14 foot bronze map illustrates the history of Bronzeville as well as the culture. The bottom of the map even has an inscription that transcribes as “Bronzeville: Depicted here are some of the geographic, cultural and historical features of this area – the “Black Metropolis” of Chicago. In the period after the First World War, an African American community of vitality and influence developed along these streets. The mixture of people here, since the late 19th Century and those drawn here during the Great Migration of the 20th Century, produced a new force in Black America: an urban home distinguished for its accomplishments in business, the arts, and community life. Particularly notable was the flowering of great music – jazz, blues, and gospel – that has enriched American culture from that time forward. Today, the Bronzeville legacy lives on in a community that looks with pride to its past and with confidence to it’s future.”(http://chicago-outdoor-sculptures.blogspot.com/2009/09/bronzeville-street-map.html). Located on the map are also significant cultures and communities that took place within the area. Such as, Illinois Central Railroad Station, Chess Records Studio, Chicago Defender, Quinn Chapel, and the Underground Railroad.
Another prominent building in the Bronzeville area is the Eighth Regiment Armory. We were surprised to see how the building is a somewhat new military academy now. The Armory, located at 3533 S. Giles Ave., was built in 1914 by architect James B. Dibelka. It was the first armory ever built for an African-American military regiment. This is another tribute to the fighting 8th, who became a division of the Illinois National Guard and during World War I became apart of the 370th U.S. Infantry.
Even though I have been so close to all of this for the past month, I had never really realized how much of American history is right here on my doorstep. Overall we had a great time walking around the neighborhood and viewing these sights. We even saw a really beautiful mural of a women and the sea that I would highly recommend seeing if a person where to visit Bronzeville and it’s delights.
“Eighth Regiment Armory.” Chicago Landmarks – Tour Details, webapps.cityofchicago.org/landmarksweb/web/landmarkdetails.htm?lanId=1294.
“Great Migration: The African-American Exodus North.” NPR, NPR, 13 Sept. 2010, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129827444.
Jyoti. “Bronzeville – Victory Monument.” Public Art in Chicago, 28 Sept. 2009, chicago-outdoor-sculptures.blogspot.com/2009/09/victory-monument.html.
Jyoti. “Bronzeville Street Map.” Public Art in Chicago, 29 Sept. 2009, chicago-outdoor-sculptures.blogspot.com/2009/09/bronzeville-street-map.html.
“Early Chicago: The Great Migration.” WTTW Chicago, 11 Sept. 2018, interactive.wttw.com/dusable-to-obama/the-great-migration.
Marie, Andi. “Chicago Patterns.” Examining Architecture, Neighborhoods, History, Design, and Preservation, chicagopatterns.com/pilgrim-baptist-church-and-kehilath-anshe-maariv-synagogue/.