History | Interview Issue 2018

Bones of the City

A Chicago archaeologist makes the case for digging up the past

Katie Hill

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.

Architecture | History | Housing

Digging Up the Past

After a new archaeological discovery at IIT, a spat over the school’s history of displacement emerges

Courtesy IIT

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.”

Education | History | Lit Issue 2018

Charting a Course

A new history examines the long-overlooked life and work of trailblazing academic Allison Davis

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.

History | Lit | Politics

Redlining Remembered

A new memoir wrestles with a familial history of racism and redlining

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.

History | Pullman

The Living Legacy of the Pullman Porters

The Pullman Porter Museum renews its push for a national registry

Armani Howard

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.”

History | Lit

Uncovering Forgotten Histories

A new guidebook brings forth Black women’s contributions to their South Side communities

Lifting As They Climbed co-author Essence McDowell speaks at the book's release at the Arts Incubator in Washington Park (Kiran Misra)

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.”

History | Lit

Roots of the Riot

“A Few Red Drops” looks beyond an incident of chaos to understand its underlying causes

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.

History | Housing Issue 2018

Home Histories: The Gwendolyn Brooks House

Ellie Mejía

Tucked away on a quiet residential street in Greater Grand Crossing, an unassuming house boasts a rich legacy. From 1953 to 1994, the house located at 7428 South Evans Avenue was home to none other than Gwendolyn Brooks, the Topeka-born, South Side-raised poet, author, and teacher. Built in 1890, today the house remains modest but well-kept by its current owner. Its one-and-a-half story gray and white exterior is a welcome change among the predominantly brick two-story houses surrounding it. Though the house is far from flashy, a closer look reveals endearing details, such as the delicate white latticework tucked below its welcoming veranda. Its simple structure is transformed into something truly remarkable when one imagines the world of creative expression it held for the four decades that Brooks lived there—and what it took to get there.

History | Housing Issue 2018

A Shelter, Fallen Out of Favor

A Cold War legacy in the basement of a 55th Street firehouse

Kiran Misra

Nothing in the facade of the fire station at the intersection of 55th and University Avenue betrays the location, underneath the firehouse, of a Cold War–era bomb shelter. All functioning bomb shelters are alike, but each decommissioned shelter was decommissioned in its own way. This one turned into a gym.