We step off the porch, and come through the stepping stones,” sculptor Margot McMahon said, leading an impromptu tour for the Weekly of her new installation commemorating revered South Side poet Gwendolyn Brooks at her namesake Kenwood park last week. Starting in front of a small porch structure—representing the Bronzeville porch on which Brooks wrote her first poetry as a child—the flagstones meander in a curved line, etched with excerpts from Brooks’s book-length poem Annie Allen. The poem follows the story of a young girl growing into a woman in Bronzeville; it resulted in Brooks becoming the first Black writer to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize.
When we’re talking about Gwendolyn Brooks, we are talking about material that will essentially educate and material that will leave a legacy,” said writer and documentarian Shahari Moore. Her solo directorial debut, Brooks People, a twenty-minute documentary exploring the work and lasting impact of Brooks, the first Black writer to win a Pulitzer Prize, premiered at the Gene Siskel Black Harvest Film Festival last year. To illustrate her outsize influence on the South Side and across the country, Moore interviewed numerous contemporaries of Brooks, including esteemed scholars, poets, and artists such as Dr. Cornel West, Nikki Giovanni, and Haki Madhubuti—as well as Brooks’ daughter, Nora Brooks Blakely.
Linda Gartz’s family lived three generations in West Garfield Park, from the time her father was born in 1914, when it “was a neighborhood of wooden sidewalks, dirt streets, and butterflies fluttering above open prairies” to her senior year of high school in 1966. By the time the family moved away, racial riots had destabilized the neighborhood, and white residents were fleeing for the suburbs. Gartz’s new memoir, Redlined, combines recent scholarship on redlining with the intimacy of a treasure trove of diaries her parents kept throughout the years. The result is a compelling chronicle of both a neighborhood’s journey and a personal one, as Gartz pieces together her past and works to place the events of her childhood in historical context.
The largest and greatest sludge plant in the world… wasn’t intended to be that way,” Richard Lanyon, former executive director of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD), said to a rapt audience, a playful smile spreading across his face. “It just happened.”
The charter school movement—which largely started in the 1990s with earnest mom-and-pop efforts to provide quality alternative education options—has resulted in a system of “educational sharecropping” for many of Chicago’s students of color, David Stovall argues in a new essay. A professor of educational policy and African-American studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Stovall traces in his essay efforts on the part of business interests, political opportunists, and outright criminals to decentralize the city’s public education system and spread the use of charters, largely on the South and West Sides.
Brian McCammack wants to push against the idea that the history of African Americans’ use of public space in and around Chicago can be summed up simply.
The aptly named Black Girl Magic, sequel to 2015’s The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop, pays homage to womanhood and livelihood as it asks what it means to be Black and female. With the editorship of Mahogany L. Browne, Idrissa Simmonds, and South Side household name Jamila Woods, Black Girl Magic compiles work from more than sixty Black women from across the diaspora, including well-known artists like Chicago’s Noname.
When people read stories, the first inclination is to find yourself on the shelf – things that reflect you, what your current knowledge and current experiences are,” says Tamela Chambers, the school librarian at Chicago Vocational Career Academy in Avalon Park. But are CPS kids on the South Side reading the age-old standards like Hamlet, flashy titles like Divergent, or something else altogether? In short, are students reading books they can find themselves in?
All of my life I sat in history classes when we were young, and we didn’t see ourselves. No one ever handed me a book full of Black women, about Black women, by Black women, ever, in my public education.”
In national conversations about the legacy of anti-Black racism in America, the subject of racial violence is often only discussed as being a Southern phenomenon. We can recall examples of the violence used to enforce the South’s racial hierarchy: Jim Crow laws, the lynching of Black men, and the bombing of Black churches. Despite the popular narrative of the North being much more progressive than the South, with the abolitionist movement and more economic opportunities for African-American citizens after slavery, the history of Chicago in the early twentieth century also exhibited continuous occurrences of racial violence and discrimination. The Chicago Race Riot of 1919, which lasted for a full week and resulted in thirty-eight deaths and over 500 people injured, is an often-overlooked event in Chicago’s history that undergoes new examination in the book A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919 by Claire Hartfield, published this January.