Off the beaten path but still close to downtown, Bronzeville is a great place to learn more about our city. The four Chicago Community Areas of Grand Boulevard, Kenwood, Douglas, and Oakland comprise Bronzeville, which is historically known as the “Black Metropolis.” It served as the northern hub for the “Great Migration” of African Americans who fled the south to find industrial jobs in the north. Obelisks around the neighborhood explain it’s rich history as a center of black culture, and many argue that the developments in the ‘20s and ‘30s in this area rivaled that of Black Harlem.
The first time I visited Bronzeville, I was with an urban planning class at Depaul. We were all very enthusiastic to see a part of our city that was so close to home, yet felt so far from the North Side neighborhoods most of us live in. When we entered Bronzeville, we were immediately greeted by what the locals call the “Soul Man.” Its actual name is “Monument to the Great Northern Migration”, but its informal name is due more to the material of the sculpture than its meaning. Artist Alison Saar made the statue to look as if he is wearing a suit made from shoe soles, representing the difficult journey of the many citizens who moved north.
Much of the public art of Bronzeville is supported by local civic or governmental efforts, such as Little Black Pearl. The Little Black Pearl is non-profit arts organization striving to share their love of art and creativity with the children and youth of Bronzeville. Their facilities at 1060 East 47th Street include studio spaces, a gallery and a retail store where you can buy art from the children that participate in their programs. The building is a surprisingly awesome piece of architecture, too. Here they were featured on NBC News:
On our class trip we also stopped by the Bronzeville Visitor Information Center where the manager, Harold Lucas, can tell you everything you ever wanted to know and more about the place he calls home. The second floor of the building features a permanent art installation, “Bronzeville to Harlem.” This work depicts both communities in the ‘20s and ‘30s. Their gift shop and thrift store on the first floor sells everything from books on Bronzeville to jewelry and records. The revenue the store creates goes directly to stimulating community involvement and enrichment.
After you’ve explored Bronzeville, you might just realize you’re a bit hungry. If so, look no further than Chi Bakery at 2132 South Michigan Avenue. If you’ve been on our Jazz, Blues & Beyond bus tour, then you know just how beautiful and delicious the cookies are! With a soft texture more like cupcakes than cookies, they come in a few different flavors, but you can’t go wrong with the red velvet. They have fantastic sandwiches, too. For soul food, like smothered chicken and greens, try Mama Lou’s Comfort Kitchen on 35th, or Le Fleur De Lis on 43rd for Creole cooking. And while I wouldn’t exactly recommend McDonald’s, the one on 35th and Indiana has a jazz theme to celebrate the rich music history of the neighborhood with walls covered with vintage records. A massive oil painting there highlights musicians, like Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines, that played in Bronzeville clubs.
Any other Bronzeville highlights you’d like to share?
– Hannah (Research/Media Intern)