Between four horn players, a dancing woman throws up her hands and closes her eyes. The performers are in a crowd in the middle of a street illuminated by streetlights, golden shopfront windows, and the stars overhead. Faces look out from windows. A white police officer casts a shifty glance.
Last week at the Harold Washington Cultural Center in Bronzeville, Michelle Duster, great-granddaughter of legendary author, journalist, and abolitionist Ida B. Wells, told a packed audience about how four generations of her family have worked to keep her legacy alive. Duster’s grandmother spent years editing Wells’s autobiography, which was first published in 1970. Duster’s parents’ generation established a memorial foundation in Wells’s name for aspiring journalists. Her cousin wrote a play about Wells. And Duster, an author and professor of writing at Columbia College, has edited two books of Wells’ original writing and worked with journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones and activist Mariame Kaba to raise around $200,000 for a monument to Wells.
With the Obama Presidential Center proposed for Jackson Park, the University of Chicago’s continuing development along 61st Street, and a myriad of other projects large and small, residents are asking: what will Woodlawn become? This is the first article in a series investigating the past, present, and future of the neighborhood.
If we can learn something valuable about people by looking at the “mundane, everyday objects” of their daily lives, as Rebecca Graff suggests, the assortment of items littered around her office tells us the obvious—that she is an urban archaeologist. Lanyards from academic conferences are pinned to the bulletin board in a messy gaggle, stray surveying equipment sits in the corner, and her shelves are full of glass bottles with worn-off labels, artifacts saved from digs. Even apparent signs of hobbies, like the half-shelf full of beer cans, lead back to her discipline: the cans are gifts from her students, finds from antique shows across the world.
About a month ago, while digging up the ground under the Illinois Institute of Technology’s S.R. Crown Hall in Bronzeville to repair the school’s steam tunnels, maintenance workers uncovered some unexpected remnants of the neighborhood’s past. The artifacts, displayed for a one-day exhibition at Crown Hall this month, included ceramic tiles and stone pathways, along with a random assortment of everyday objects: a busted thermometer, glazed clay Bennington marbles, and a dirt-caked silver fork inscribed with the word “Toffenetti.”
In The Lost Black Scholar, historian David A. Varel tells the story of Allison Davis, the first Black professor to become a full faculty member at a predominantly white American university—the University of Chicago—and a brilliant scholar who, despite making significant contributions to race-related issues in multiple fields, was underappreciated in his time and continues to be overlooked by scholars and historians today.
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.
In 1995, Dr. Lyn Hughes founded the National A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum to commemorate the thousands of African-American men who staffed Pullman sleeping cars for more than a century, between 1869 and 1969. Twenty-three years later, Hughes is convinced that the museum’s renewed attempt to catalogue the 20,000 descendants of these men will constitute her legacy. “Long after I’m gone,” she said, “it will be in history books. It will be part of the record that nobody can take away, no matter who’s mayor, no matter who’s alderman, no matter who’s president.”
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.”