Blues Trail: A Trip Through History

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

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