Healthy Soul

Bronzeville USA aka South Side Chicago

My friend Valarie and I are on our own Black History tour aboard Amtrak, visiting heritage sites pertaining to African American history in Chicago, Memphis, Jackson, New Orleans, Birmingham, and Washington, DC. We began on Tuesday, June 28, 2011. Here is what we did on Day 2, in Chicago.

I’ve been to Chicago several times for conferences. I can’t recall taking a tour, but remember traversing Miracle Mile, buying pretty things at Marshall Fields, satisfying my sweet tooth at Godiva’s and sauntering along the lakefront.

None of that prepared me for an afternoon with Barbara Morris, founder of Black CouTours. We called her when the train pulled into Chicago’s Union Station at 11:15 a.m., two hours later than the scheduled time of arrival.

Chicago South Loop Hotel, built to provide accommodations for blacks who were denied access to white-owned hotels.

The plan was firmed up: Get a cab to Hostelling International Chicago to shower, have lunch close by, wait for her to show up in the gray Chrysler 300.

Hostelling International Hotel, Chicago.

She introduced us to the south side of Chicago, immersing us in the social, political, economic and cultural contributions made by African Americans to the wider American community. Bronzeville is that section of Chicago where black residents were restricted to live in the 1870s.

Harold Washington Cultural Center.

It was home to Ida B. Wells Barnett, Louis Satchmo Armstrong, Muhammad Ali, and Minister Louis Farrakhan. Bronzeville was where the first black banks were created – the Binga Bank as well as the Douglas National Bank.

Home of Ida B. Wells Barnett, Bronzeville.

For three hours, we soaked up historical facts and nuanced interpretations of stories totally new to me. For example, most of the houses on the even-numbered side of the 4500 block of South Forrestville Avenue were designed by black architects. We’d heard that John Rockefeller provided the funds to start the University of Chicago but never knew that his family gave the money to start Spelman College, AND that Spelman was his wife’s maiden name.

We saw the DuSable Museum – founded by Margaret Taylor Goss Burroughs, a former art teacher at DuSable High School – and learned that she penned the poem “What should I tell my children that I am Black.”

DuSable Museum, Chicago.

I recognized the need for me to relearn in which states slavery was outlawed and in which ones slaveholdings were allowed so that I can be much more knowledgeable about the massive and intricate web of stations on the Underground Railroad, like Quinn Memorial Chapel, the first black church established in Chicago.

The tour was an intense educational experience, taught to us by this former speech therapist and Chicago native who was has been introducing people to Bronzeville for the past 15 years.

Bench outside the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. branch of the Chicago Public Library.

Whenever you are in Chicago, remember to join Black CouTours for an unique experience. You can contact Barbara Morris at coutours@sbcglobal.net.

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Click here to read the other posts from Jennifer’s Black History Tour.

2 Comments

  1. It’s the ‘Magnificent Mile’ Ms. Beaumont. It has never been known as the ‘Miracle Mile’ However, I appreciate your commentary on my beloved South Side.

    —A Chicagoan

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