Excursion to Bronzeville

On April 16, I went to Bronzeville by myself. As professor Freidman said, “Bronzeville is a rather large neighborhood encompassing many community areas including: the Near South Side, Douglas, Oakland, Kenwood, Fuller Park, Grand Boulevard, and Washington Park.” Because I don’t have a bicycle or a car, I just walked around the area from 31th Street to East Pershing Road, and visited as many sites as I could.


(Bronzeville Map from http://icefordemocracy.org/images/HousingBronzeville/bronzevillemap.jpg)

First, I checked in with professor at the intersection of M.L.King Dr. and 35th Street, which belongs to Grand Boulevard area.


(Intersection of M.L.King Dr. and 35th Street)

According to the video “Biking the Boulevard,” Grand Boulevard was a hub where African Americans lived, worked, and shopped in the early 20th century. At a time when segregation and discrimination kept African Americans out of the loop, they built their own downtown, here in a place they called Bronzeville. Black entrepreneurs opened restaurants and stores here, banks and real estate firms, a film studio, and insurance companies.[1]

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Victory Monument is on the 35th and King Dr. This structure was erected to honor the achievement of the Eighth Regiment of the Illinois National Guard. The soldier on top was dedicated to all the black soldiers who died in the war. The monument is a white granite shaft with four bronze relief panels. [2]

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(Ida B. Wells – Barnett House on 3624 S. King Dr.)

From 1919 to 1930, this place was the home of journalist-civil rights activist Ida Bell Wells and her lawyer-journalist husband. She spent her life crusading against lynching in America. [3]

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On the way I went to different sites, I saw various style of houses, churches, and schools. I think they are outcome of gentrification because they look delicate and luxurious. Although they may not seem modern now, with the development of city, these kind of buildings were grand long ago. Moreover, this could prove that residents here were middle-class or at least wealthy people.

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(Wabash YMCA on 3763. S. Wabash)

The next site I visited was Wabash YMCA. I walked into the building and talked with the receptionist who were kind. She told me that they provide service such as sports, work-out facilities, child care and other activities to the residents. Full title of YMCA is Young Men’s Christian Association. It makes accessible the support and opportunities that empower people and communities to learn, grow and thrive. With a focus on fitness and healthy living, character development, academic readiness and violence prevention, YMCA in this African-American community connects residents and provides opportunities to be healthier.[4] It is surely an important public facility in the neighborhood.

IMG_0286 IMG_0287 IMG_0288(Overton Hygienic Building on 3619-27 S. State St. and Chicago Bee Building on 3647-55 S. State St.)

Anthony Overton owned one of the nation’s largest cosmetics firms, serving African Americans, Overton Hygienic; along with a bank, an insurance agency, and a publishing company. His newspaper, the Chicago Bee, was headquartered in this building down the street. The nation’s most influential black newspaper, the Chicago Defender, was based here on south Indiana. Editor Robert S. Abbott used the newspaper to champion civil rights, and to encourage southern blacks to make the journey north to Chicago.[1]

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(Stephen A. Douglas Tomb on 636 E. 35 St)

Douglas is best remembered as Abraham Lincoln’s opponent in the great debates. Douglas’ final resting place is here at 35th street.[1]

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(Supreme Life Building on 3501 S. King Dr.)

Supreme Life Building was the longtime headquarters of the first African-American owned and operated insurance company in the northern US. It was founded in 1919 by Frank L. Gillespie.[5]

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(Meyer’s Hardware on 315 E. 35th St.)

This hardware store was once a popular jazz club. The Sunset Café, later called the Grand Terrace, featured greats like Earl Fatha Hines, Cab Calloway, Bix Beiderbecke, and Louis Armstrong. The venue became a hardware store in the 1970s.[1]

Bronzeville was too large for me to visit all of sites. However, during the visit to these places, I still could feel the historical significance of the neighborhood. Insurance company, restaurants, churches and other business companies showed the booming history of the neighborhood. Here people could see, shop, conduct business, and experience the bustling black metropolis. The jazz clubs and gospel music also show the contribution of talented black artists. Public facilities, business companies were pillars of the community which helped to instill pride and contribute to the upward mobility of African-Americans.[6]

Bronzeville was one of the most significant areas of African-American history. Also, between 1910 and 1920, a tremendous numbers of African-American workers journeyed to Bronzeville to escape oppression in the Southern United States.[7] I think Bronzeville has witnessed the revitalization of the neighborhood. When people first thought the neighborhood was insafe and full of riots, residents were considered segregated. However, black people built their own real estates and cultural relics instead of complaining or negative behavior. Wealthy businessmen and middle-class people settled here to improve economic, artists came here created artworks and music(e.g. gospel). They are all black people and everyone contributed to the development. Thus, Bronzeville is a representation of Black intelligence and passion. They created significant cultural relics in Chicago.

It is a pity that I couldn’t visited more sites further north or south. However, I would visit more sites in the future to admire legacy which black people have left in the neighborhood.


1. Video: Biking the Boulevards

2. Website: http://chicago-outdoor-sculptures.blogspot.com/2009/09/victory-monument.html

3. Website: http://chicago-architecture-jyoti.blogspot.com/2010/03/ida-b-wells-barnett-house.html

4. Introduction brochure of YMCA

5. Website: http://webapps1.cityofchicago.org/landmarksweb/web/landmarkdetails.htm?lanId=1431

6. Website: http://www.wttw.com/main.taf?p=76,4,4,8

7. Website: http://www.choosechicago.com/neighborhoods-and-communities/bronzeville/


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