Black Metropolis National Heritage Area Project

by Mary C. Piemonte 

A small group of Chicago Bronzeville area residents, local business people, and housing developers recently got together to talk about ways to make the “Black Metropolis” a National Heritage Area (NHA). They see the NHA as a way to preserve the historical sense of community, and to care for their land and culture, as well as provide an opportunity to pass on the knowledge and culture of the past to future generations.

The National Park Service defines a National Heritage Area as “a place designated by Congress where natural, cultural, historic and scenic resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally distinctive landscape arising from patterns of human activity shaped by geography.”

At the first Annual Heritage Development Summit, held at the Hyatt Regency McCormack Hotel, on March 15, preservationists, business leaders, homeowners, community organizers, local bank and state government representatives listened to Jerry Adelmann, the executive director of Openland, a conservation organization, talk about the development strategy for becoming a National Heritage Area. Then the group of people attended several sessions to address the four critical steps needed prior to congressional designation of Black Metropolis into a National Heritage Area.

National Park Service guidelines state that four tasks are required in establishing National Heritage Area status. They must first complete a suitability/feasibility study “that can be completed in as few as nine months or three years, and costing as much as $200,000 and as little as nothing if funded by Congress.” The suitability/feasibility study is required to include information on the national significances of its story, data on whether the story is being told elsewhere, how the story can be told and who should be responsible for telling the story and how. The second task would be to incorporate public involvement in the suitability/feasibility study. Third, they must demonstrate widespread public support among heritage area residents for the proposed designation, and attain commitment from key constituents, which may include citizens, area governments, industry and private and nonprofit organizations, in addition to area residents.

In the three break-out sessions, the community organizers, historians and others, strategized together to come up with the analysis and documentation to include in the suitability/feasibility study that would illustrate the requirements of NPS standards.

Bronzeville community activist Celcelia Butler (seated with hands up), asks developers questions during the Black Metropolis National Area Project Summit in February Photo by Mary C. Johns

In the sessions, they shared the anthropology of Black Metropolis that produced dozens of famous personalities, musicians, entrepreneurs, social justice advocates, literary writers and physicians like Dr. Daniel Hale Williams. Williams performed the first open heart surgery and also founded Provident Hospital, “the first Black-controlled hospital in America,” according to the African American Registry.

They talked about the DuSable trails that were established by Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, the founder of Chicago. And they discussed the significance of the nine landmarks in Bronzeville acknowledged by the city of Chicago, historic sites, the age-old churches and present and past entertainment joints like the now-closed Gerri’s Palm Tavern, formerly one of the oldest black-owned businesses in the city, where notable Black entertainers like Ella Fitzgerald and others performed.

The participants then shared views about how the area reflects traditions, customs and beliefs that are a valuable part of the Black Metropolis national story. They discussed how the area provides outstanding opportunity to conserve natural, cultural, historic, and/or scenic features, and talked about how the area provided outstanding recreational and educational opportunities, especially for the youths. Afterwards, they discussed with three housing developers, the ways to get the residents, business interests, non-profit organizations and governments within the proposed areas involved in the planning process.

During a panel discussion, moderated by Laura Washington, Sun-Times columnist and former publisher of the Chicago Reporter investigative magazine, the summit attendees listened to the developers talk about their public and private housing projects in the Bronzeville Community. They questioned the developers on how they were willing to commit to working in partnership with them to develop the heritage area and asked the developers for their input on ways to continue economic activity in the area.

One woman in attendance wanted to know what the developers’ opinions were on the state of African American participation in the construction trade, specifically, whether they felt pessimistic or optimistic about unions in general.

Leroy Bannister, the president of East Lake Management & Development, said he was pessimistic because he didn’t “think the unions have done anything to assist the African American community in developing any kind of experience or expertise in the construction trade.”

Bannister added that his organization was willing to provide jobs for youths in the Black Metropolis and to help them get experience in the construction trade.

“We’re willing to work with them. We’re going to insist that they be responsible. We’re going to insist that they have a level of discipline. But we will work with them in that regard. And we try to use resources in and around our buildings to give people experience to help them become educated,” he said.

Rev. Dr. Leon Finney, Jr., president of the Woodlawn Community Development Corporation, suggested those in attendance change the way they deal with labor unions so that African American people can have the opportunity to build their own homes in their communities.

“Those are our jobs, and it’s bad when you have to hire…white people to come in and build buildings in our neighborhoods and watch young men and young women walking by those jobs every day. That’s devastating to them, to believe that they can’t build in their own community. That they can’t dig a ditch …They can’t lay a brick…They can’t pour concrete in their own community. It’s awful, and we have to do something about it,” he said.

Finney also suggested that the group work towards getting City College-run Washburn Trade School, located at 3233 W. 31st St. opened again.

There is a lot of African American buying power in the communities and community activist Bobby Johnson wanted to know if any of the developers analyzed the Illinois budget to find out where money from tourism, and other attractions, is going that is supposed to assist the minorities in Illinois.

Finney said he and others worked with African American legislators in the general assembly on the state budget last year, and said he would do so again this year. Then he invited those in attendance to work with him regarding the state budget, and encouraged them to support a state tax increase this year.

Harold Lucas of the Black Metropolis Convention & Tourism Council wanted to know from Jared Davis, executive vice president of the Neighborhood Rejuvenation Partners/The Davis Group, a real estate development firm, what they intended to do with the landmark Overton Hygienic Building the Davis Group recently bought the building after it came under foreclosure in recent months. The building was formerly being developed by the Mid-South Planning and Development Commission with Empowerment Zone funds.

The building, located at 3619-27 S. State St., was built in 1923 by entrepreneur Anthony Overton, who was “one of the nation’s foremost producers of African-American cosmetics.” The building also housed “the first nationally chartered, African-American-owned bank,” according to information on the city of Chicago’s website. He added that he used the historical account of the building as an instruction tool for a history lesson he provided to school children in the area when he was principal for a day last year.

Lucas said the plans for the building when it was under ownership of Mid-South was to serve the public housing residents living across the street from the building. Davis said his organization bid up to $1.2 million to purchase the Overton Hygienic building at an auction after the building went under foreclosure.

He said that though his organization hasn’t fully thought out the ultimate end use for the structure, they are going to relocate their offices as part of it and have commercial space on the first floor.

Davis added that he was open to hear what ideas the public had for services offered at the building.

“We’re still in the development process and the planning process…So, if there is a conversation that needs to be had with Black Metropolis and the rest of the community, then we’re open to that,” he said.

Lucas asked the developers what Black Metropolis should do to counteract the Bush administration’s desire to cut Community Development Block Grants and HOPE VI and empowerment zone funding to build new housing. Finney said he along with several Illinois Democratic leaders and others, “were working aggressively to make sure that we don’t see CDBG and programs like that deep-six as the Bush administration comes forward with no budget.”

In the past 20 years, over 150 American communities have embarked on a path toward possible NHA designation, according to data provided by Elaine Van S. Carmichael, president of Economic Stewardship Inc., and consultant for the Black Metropolis National Heritage Area Project. To date, there are only 27 National Heritage Area designations in 16 states nationwide with more than 45 million Americans living within the boundaries that were passed by the U. S. Congress.

The summit concluded with the group talking about their next steps for National Heritage Area designation, which included how to encourage elected leaders in Washington, D.C. to prepare legislation authorizing, instructing and fully funding their NPS suitability/feasibility study.

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Civic Engagement & Service Learning in the Historic Bronzeville Community!

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Hey Harold,

 
Below I have added a brief overview of what we’re working on with the DePaul youth.
 
“Monday, September 26th was a pivotal day for the Bronzeville Community as Harold Lucas, President of Black Metropolis Convention & Tourism Council (BMC&TC), introduced Professor Mark Wodziak & his 28 Freshmen from Depaul University to the neighborhood for a brief historical introduction.  Over the last several years, Harold Lucas has taken the initiative to welcome DePaul University to Bronzeville as they prepare to integrate a new stadium  as a community benefit to the neighborhood.  By keeping the discussion open, transparent and above all “ historically authentic”, Harold has also connected the students to Jonese Burnett, Director of Bronzeville Retail Initiative, and Mac Gordon, Executive Director Of Grow Fancy LLC, for an insight of the economic development within the community.  This discussion also entails some of the racial & political issues that are currently prevalent amongst the community, but furthermore potential solutions to eradicate these issues.  
 
Depaul and BMC&TC will be working collaboratively during this semester to strategize, promote, and welcome diversity & development to Bronzeville as a whole for the residents and businesses throughout the area.

 

Black Metropolis Convention & Tourism Council (BMC&TC) a 501c3 not-for-profit Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) for the historic Bronzeville community and the broader south lakefront region of Chicago, has launched a civic engagement & service learning, cultural heritage tourism development initiative in collaboration with DePaul University.

Chicago

                 Photographs by Deanne Fitzmaurice/The Players’ Tribune

 

One night when I was 18, I was walking to the Walgreens that was on my block. It was December and freezing in Chicago. Usually that means it’s a little safer, too.I was just going out for some chips and a drink, but before I even got to the store, shots rang out. Another drive-by. I hit the ground for a few seconds and then started running back home.

I wanted to keep running though. Away from the South Side, away from Chicago. I just wanted to get out.

Let me tell you about my city.

Growing up where I did on the South Side, it was easy to think that there wasn’t much beyond those city blocks. Because not many people were telling us any different. We were expected to live in the same house we had grown up in, which was the same house our parents had grown up in.

Around the Ickes projects, you see the same folks every day. You see the same cop cars chasing people up and down 79th Street. You get used to the crime and, from a young age, you learn how to live with it. You learn what to do during a drive-by: Y

ou duck. And you run. I’m not saying all this to be tough, it’s just how things are. There are certain rules you live by. Make sure you’re with your big sisters. Be home before the lights at the park come on. All that sort of stuff…..

To Read More on this story click on this link http://www.theplayerstribune.com/jabari-parker-chicago-gun-violence/

Going fishing this summer in the Millennium Reserve, Chicago south lakefront regional geographic service area

Bronzeville Visitor Information Center volunteer staff, will facilitate another “free” outdoor recreational mobile tour, in collaborative partnerships with Black Metropolis/Pullman Porter Great Migration Blues Trail Environmental Education Outreach program and Fishing Buddies, on next Saturday July 9th, 2016 at 8:00 AM sharp!.

This time we will travel by tour bus to Wampum Lake which offers 4,800 feet of shoreline from which anglers can fish. In addition to fishing, the 412-acre Wampum Lakes Woods contains four large groves for picnicking.
As a great place for fishing and large gatherings, Wampum Lake Woods hosts many fishing contests in the summer. But no matter the size of a group or level of fishing expertise, Wampum is a great place to enjoy a beautiful day with friends and family.
The entrance to the preserve is on the north side of Thornton-Lansing Road. Parking is available along both sides of the access road. The picnic groves are open areas bordered on one side by woods. The second grove in from the entrance offers a shelter with multiple picnic tables. These large grassy areas are excellent for sports, games or even kite flying.
Shoreline fishing is available around most of the lake, and plenty of benches are provided along the southern shore.

The sandy soil of Wampum Lake supports unique plant life such as skunk cabbage and cinnamon ferns. Loons, eagles and osprey stop over at the preserve on their annual migration south in fall. Spring brings colorful flowers such as wild geranium, phlox and toothwort, as well as birds such as red-breasted mergansers, great blue herons and warblers.

But the species of greatest interest at the lake are the fish. Wampum Lake is best known for the size and number of perch, however a great many other fish swim here, such as largemouth bass, bluegill, sunfish, crappie, channel catfish and bullhead. On occasion fishermen have also reeled in good-sized northern pike.

West of the parking lot, natural springs create wet, marshy areas in the woods, particularly in spring.

www.fishin-buddies.net
We conserve the environment through outreach, restoration, and education.
Fishin’ Buddies! believes in the emotional and psychological restorative powers of the outdoors. We believe it is important to expose this philosophy to children who’s ideal of the “Great Outdoors” as being the grass-less, glass strewn, debris filled, concrete and steel playgrounds of urban America.

Harold L. Lucas

1.773-676-6207

www.bviconline.info

Blues Trail: A Trip Through History

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Blues Trail: A Trip Through History

A difficult journey. The promise of greater freedom, opportunity and a new home.

That is the story of the Great Migration (or Great Northern Migration) depicted in artist Alison Saar’s iconic bronze sculpture at King Drive and 26th Place in Chicago. It’s one of the many sights you can see on a dynamic and colorful bus tour that tells a vital story of Chicago’s rich African-American history.

The tour is called the Black Metropolis Pullman Porter Great Migration Blues Trail. It was created by longtime community leader Paula Robinson, activist Harold Lucas and activist scholar Dr. Lyn Hughes after they attended a conference on heritage tourism. “We ended up with this long name, and we laughed,” says Dr. Hughes, who founded the National A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum, located in what is now the Pullman National Monument on Chicago’s southeast side. “And the name stuck.”

Perhaps a long, almost percussive-sounding name fits for the Blues Trail tour, which combines stops and stories that evoke our region’s pivotal role in the Great Migration, as a home for blues (and, later, “electric” blues), jazz and gospel music and so much more. The tour reflects the legacy of more than 500,000 African Americans who came to the Chicago area during the Great Migration.

The four-and-a-half hour Blues Trail tour begins at 820 S. Michigan Ave. and heads south from there.

Lucas, chief executive officer of the Black Metropolis Convention & Tourism Council, often leads the tour. Lucas says the tour not only reflects history, but also the deeply personal struggle of generations of African Americans whose lives have been shaped by the Great Migration. “At all times, we want to be true to the sons and daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of people who left the south and came to Chicago,” says Lucas.

Lucas also puts the tour in the context of Chicago – and the nation’s history. “The culture and politics of the South Side are not just tied to the Great Migration, but helped lead to the city’s first African American mayor and the first African American president of this country.”

One early stop on the tour literally links the past to the present: the Blues Heaven Foundation at 2120 S. Michigan Ave., which is just a stone’s throw from Millennium Reserve. The site was once the home of Chess Records, where Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy and others recorded music. The Blues Heaven Foundation is now operated by Keith Dixon Nelson, Willie Dixon’s grandson.

At 22nd Street, the tour focuses on demolition of housing that affected South Side communities. Later, the tour stops at the Walk of Fame in Bronzeville: 91 bronze plaques of cultural luminaries from Bronzeville’s past, including musician Louis Armstrong, poet Gwendolyn Brooks and Dr. Margaret Burroughs, founder of the DuSable Museum of African-American History.

Later, a stop at the Pullman Porter Museum shares the history of Pullman porters, who served American railroads from the late 1860s until late in the 20th Century. Under the leadership of A. Philip Randolph, Pullman porters formed the nation’s first all-black union.

“When we go to the Pullman Porter Museum, we learn about what the porters accomplished and what they had to endure,” says Cheryl Colbert, a longtime Bronzeville resident and volunteer who has led this and other tours. “They were the essential glue in the community that helped create the emerging black middle class. The other side was that they had to take so much abuse from the public.”

Blues Trail: A Trip Through History

A difficult journey. The promise of greater freedom, opportunity and a new home.

That is the story of the Great Migration (or Great Northern Migration) depicted in artist Alison Saar’s iconic bronze sculpture at King Drive and 26th Place in Chicago. It’s one of the many sights you can see on a dynamic and colorful bus tour that tells a vital story of Chicago’s rich African-American history.

The tour is called the Black Metropolis Pullman Porter Great Migration Blues Trail. It was created by longtime community leader Paula Robinson, activist Harold Lucas and activist scholar Dr. Lyn Hughes after they attended a conference on heritage tourism. “We ended up with this long name, and we laughed,” says Dr. Hughes, who founded the National A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum, located in what is now the Pullman National Monument on Chicago’s southeast side. “And the name stuck.”

Perhaps a long, almost percussive-sounding name fits for the Blues Trail tour, which combines stops and stories that evoke our region’s pivotal role in the Great Migration, as a home for blues (and, later, “electric” blues), jazz and gospel music and so much more. The tour reflects the legacy of more than 500,000 African Americans who came to the Chicago area during the Great Migration.

The four-and-a-half hour Blues Trail tour begins at 820 S. Michigan Ave. and heads south from there.

Lucas, chief executive officer of the Black Metropolis Convention & Tourism Council, often leads the tour. Lucas says the tour not only reflects history, but also the deeply personal struggle of generations of African Americans whose lives have been shaped by the Great Migration. “At all times, we want to be true to the sons and daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of people who left the south and came to Chicago,” says Lucas.

Lucas also puts the tour in the context of Chicago – and the nation’s history. “The culture and politics of the South Side are not just tied to the Great Migration, but helped lead to the city’s first African American mayor and the first African American president of this country.”

One early stop on the tour literally links the past to the present: the Blues Heaven Foundation at 2120 S. Michigan Ave., which is just a stone’s throw from Millennium Reserve. The site was once the home of Chess Records, where Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy and others recorded music. The Blues Heaven Foundation is now operated by Keith Dixon Nelson, Willie Dixon’s grandson.

At 22nd Street, the tour focuses on demolition of housing that affected South Side communities. Later, the tour stops at the Walk of Fame in Bronzeville: 91 bronze plaques of cultural luminaries from Bronzeville’s past, including musician Louis Armstrong, poet Gwendolyn Brooks and Dr. Margaret Burroughs, founder of the DuSable Museum of African-American History.

Later, a stop at the Pullman Porter Museum shares the history of Pullman porters, who served American railroads from the late 1860s until late in the 20th Century. Under the leadership of A. Philip Randolph, Pullman porters formed the nation’s first all-black union.

“When we go to the Pullman Porter Museum, we learn about what the porters accomplished and what they had to endure,” says Cheryl Colbert, a longtime Bronzeville resident and volunteer who has led this and other tours. “They were the essential glue in the community that helped create the emerging black middle class. The other side was that they had to take so much abuse from the public.”

Lucas says the content of the tour also relates directly to what’s happening in Chicago, and many other cities, today. “We came to the northern cities to seek economic emancipation,” he says. “That’s still a major issue facing our communities.”

The Trail is one of many activities that focus on the legacy of African Americans in Chicago. This year is the centennial of the Great Migration, a milestone being recognized by the Great Migration Centennial Campaign. (Paula Robinson sits on the Great Migration Centennial Commission.)

For Colbert, the Blues Trail tour helps “preserve what remains of this community – but also invigorates the community and can bring people here. I think it can also inspire youth. When you know your history, it can influence the present and future.”

You can sign up for the Blues Trail tour, or book the tour for a group, by going to https://www.eventbrite.com/e/black-metropolis-pullman-porter-great-migration-blues-trail-tour-2016-includes-box-lunch-note-tickets-20351165885

Meeting with community organizer Harold Lucas

Harold Lucas, a career community organizer and urban preservationist, has worked to protect the authentic cultural legacy of Chicago’s Bronzeville community since 1973. Moreover, Mr. Lucas is the visionary behind the “Restoring Bronzeville” campaign that promotes the Black Metropolis Historic District as a premier African-American heritage tourism destination.

Preserving and enhancing the Bronzeville Visitor Information Center, the cultural heritage anchor to the south lakefront region of Chicago

Strategically located within the Supreme Life Building, as the
Gateway to the Black Metropolis National Heritage Area, the Bronzeville Visitor Information Center preserves and sustains the broader south lakefront region of Chicago, while serving as an anchor institution for branding, marketing and enhancing multiple cultural heritage tourism sites, attractions and destinations in Bronzeville.Continuing to develop the Bronzeville Visitor Information Center as the precious cultural heritage archival resource remains the goal of the Black Metropolis Convention & Tourism Council.

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