Podcast Episode #9: Two Bronzevilles

0 Posted by - March 11, 2021 - CHI-MKE, Podcast Episode

Episode posted March 11, 2021

Podcast Episode #9:  https://cream-city-windy-city.simplecast.com/episodes/two-bronzevilles

Title: Two Bronzevilles

This is Cream City, Windy City.  I’m Wendy Bright.

Every episode, we explore thought-provoking connections between Milwaukee and Chicago, two cities 90-miles apart on the shores of Lake Michigan.  This podcast is an effort to lay out some of these links, to connect the histories and human stories of both cities.

Today we explore the story of two Bronzevilles, the historic African American neighborhoods in Chicago and Milwaukee.  There are some interesting correlations between the two.  They both share a complex story of struggle and pain, resilience and regeneration.  It is a story that begins one century ago.  It is a story that lives on today.

This episode has some incredible images accompanying it.  You can check them out at wendycitychicago.com

Let me start by saying: this is a subject much too vast for a single podcast episode.  But let’s zero in on the shared aspects of Chicago and Milwaukee’s Bronzevilles.  As many of us have come to realize, our Bronzeville neighborhoods have a history of being unappreciated, underestimated, neglected, passed over, forgotten.  In the case of Milwaukee, Bronzeville was eliminated decades ago; many Milwaukeeans had never even heard of Bronzeville until recently.

But we know that the Bronzeville story is an essential one to tell.  The African Americans who migrated from the South to settle in the restricted urban districts allotted them permanently transformed Chicago and Milwaukee.  The people of the two Bronzevilles brought forth a vivid world of music, art, and literature.  They grew cohesive communities, tight-knit families and congregations, excellent schools, and successful careers and businesses…all despite the many challenges facing them.  Black Chicagoans and Milwaukeeans have too long endured racism and discrimination of all kinds.

Let’s take a look at this story, both negative and positive.  Our rich Bronzeville histories are celebrations of the vibrant communities at the heart of our two cities.

Children in Bronzeville, Chicago

In the middle of a median on a busy southside Chicago boulevard stands a 15-foot tall, bronze figure of a man.  He wears a hat and is facing north, the direction he’s headed.  His right hand is raised in salutation to his destination.  His left hand carries a suitcase full of his hopes and dreams.  He is clothed in the worn leather soles of the shoes of his fellow travelers.  Alison Saar’s powerful 1994 work, “Monument to the Great Northern Migration,” at 26th and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive greets you at the gateway to Chicago’s Bronzeville.

The Great Northern Migration, Alison Saar (1994), Chicago


And indeed, the Great Migration is the beginning of the Bronzeville story.

For most of United States history, the majority of African Americans lived in the South. Beginning in the early 20th century, half would migrate away, to the north and west, with large numbers landing in New York, Detroit, and Chicago.  Life had been brutal in the South.  Black Americans were emancipated citizens …but not treated as such.  Those who had survived Jim Crow, the Klan, lynchings, and oppression, now sought asylum, freedom, and opportunity.  The lure of higher-paying industrial jobs in the North and the prospect of a better life were the sparks that lit the fire of exodus.  Over six million Black Americans made the move between 1915 and 1970.

Yet they faced an uncertain future in their new homes.  Leaving the only life they had known — which for the majority was rural and agricultural — they boarded trains for urban centers.  Northern cities may as well have been foreign lands with their hurried ways of speaking and moving, perplexing new laws and rules, the noise and chaos of urban life, not to mention the staggering cost of rent.  The cities seemed overpoweringly large and crowded, especially New York, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia.  Many opted to go to smaller cities that were less overwhelming, such as Syracuse, Oakland, Newark, Gary, and Milwaukee.  But these cities seemed to be foreign places, as well.  As poet Carl Sandburg wrote at the time, each of these American cities became a ‘receiving station and port of refuge.’

Despite the uncertainty, millions held out hope for a better life and made the journey.  There is an account of one large group of northbound migrants, after making the Ohio River crossing – that old dividing line between slave and free states – falling to their knees in prayer and rejoicing, singing with tears of joy.


Chicago Defender offices

The Chicago Defender newspaper was by WWI the nation’s most influential Black weekly, with the majority of its readership outside of Chicago.  The paper, read widely by African Americans in the South, promoted the idea of the “Great Northern Drive.”  Southern Blacks were encouraged to make the journey out of the South and toward the promise of dignity and solid employment.  It was good timing.  World War I had cut off the supply of European immigrant laborers, so employment opportunities were plentiful.  In just a few short years of that call, the African American population in Chicago rose to over 100,000.  In the coming decades, 500,000 more would follow.

Among those heading north were blues musicians, such as Muddy Waters, Chester Burnett Howling Wolf, and Buddy Guy.  They knew they would have a better chance for gigs and recording in Chicago.  Pianist Eddie Boyd described the motivation, “I thought of coming to Chicago where I could get away from some of that racism and where I would have an opportunity to, well, do something with my talent… It wasn’t peaches and cream [in Chicago], man, but it was a hell of a lot better than down there where I was born.”

Because Chicago’s influence and reach extended nationwide through music, through publications such as the Defender, and through the ubiquitous mail-order catalogs of Montgomery Ward and Sears & Roebuck, Chicago beckoned as a kind of promised land… a place of department stores, skyscrapers, boulevards…and plentiful jobs.

Migrant family, Chicago, 1918

Black Americans had been slowly moving into Milwaukee, too.  But many more came in the aftermath of World War II.  Some making the journey north toward Chicago opted to keep going the 90 miles north.  Milwaukee held the promise of good industrial jobs and city life a bit less frenetic.  Navigating Milwaukee’s urban environment would not be as overwhelming as in Chicago.

Train lines often determined where people would travel – to the east coast, Midwest, or the west coast.  Also influential: corporate recruiters traveled the South trying to convince workers to move North and work for their specific companies.  And certain southern counties became the starting point of feeder lines to certain destinations in the North.  For example, many of those who came to Milwaukee came by way of Beloit.  They had migrated from Chickasaw County, Mississippi, and from Beloit made their way to Milwaukee.   Milwaukee’s Black population grew quickly from the 1940s onward, from 18,000 in 1940, doubling by 1950, to 48,000 in 1960.

The Great Migration by decade

The urban areas where African Americans settled were known by various names.  ‘Black Belt’ and ‘Black Metropolis’ were terms coined by Chicago writers and journalists.  ‘Black Metropolis’ was a good descriptor as African Americans gravitated toward the city and created a thriving community.  But many resented having their neighborhood referred to as the “Black Belt,” “the Black neighborhood,” “Black Ghetto” or worse.

The name ‘Bronzeville’ originated in Chicago.  The idea was that bronze was a more accurate term than black as most African American skin is actually various shades of brown.  Local editor of the Chicago Bee newspaper and entrepreneur James Gentry popularized the term.  Through many high-profile promotions over decades, Bronzeville solidified as the name that best reflected the community.

The name Bronzeville was then found in other places, as well, such as Columbus, Ohio, cities along the West Coast, and, of course, Milwaukee.

1934 Map of Chicago

Chicago’s Bronzeville stretches from 22nd to 63rd streets along State Street, Cottage Grove, and Grand Boulevard (later known as South Park Way, and renamed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in 1968).  It is a narrow strip, that at its peak held a population of 300,000.  Bronzeville was a city within a city and in the 1940s the second-largest African-American city in the world.  Yet its borders were strictly drawn.  With the Great Migration came white panic and housing covenants to contain it, in effect boxing in the area on all sides.  As Isabel Wilkerson in her bestselling account of the Great Migration, The Warmth of Other Suns, describes the district: it was “…the roped off colored section of town…”

Housing in Bronzeville, Chicago

New York’s Harlem had its Renaissance before Chicago’s Bronzeville had fully blossomed. But in the 1940s Chicago’s Bronzeville became the capital of Black America. Its flourishing artistic and literary circles created a Renaissance comparable to that in Harlem.  Bronzeville’s residents had established a full-fledged community with business, culture, and institutions that did not have the racial restrictions as in most parts of the city.  Prominent writers in Chicago included Richard Wright and Margaret Walker. Bronzeville was home to Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks, known for her portrayals of Black working-class life in the crowded tenements of Bronzeville.  A new musical culture arose, as well, coming up out of the Mississippi Delta. The 1920s would be the height of the Jazz Age, but the music just kept getting better in Bronzeville.  In the bright-lights district of ‘The Stroll’ along State Street, the music was in the air everywhere.

As Chicago’s Bronzeville 1940s Renaissance was happening, Milwaukee’s African American neighborhood was fully forming on the city’s near north side.  As in Chicago, arrivals from the south had little choice as to where to live so they settled in one of the oldest parts of the city, with some of the oldest housing.  Racial segregation also forced Milwaukee’s Bronzeville boundaries: State Street on the south, North Avenue on the north, 3rd Street (today’s Martin Luther King Drive) on the east, and 12th Street on the west.  Walnut Street ran east to west and was the commercial and entertainment heart of Bronzeville.

Contemporary map showing historic Bronzeville, Milwaukee

African Americans arrived in Chicago anticipating better jobs and reduced oppression.  But the reality fell far short.  Conditions in the city were still repressive and segregated.  As sociologist writer Eve Ewing put it, Chicago never had de jure segregation. But it has had de facto segregation.  By habit and by practice, the city was segregated.

Newcomers found themselves restricted to largely dilapidated, densely crowded, white-owned housing that was more expensive than the housing in white areas.  For southern Blacks, Chicago offered jobs …but not the warmest welcome.

Children in Bronzeville, Chicago

Morning in Bronzeville, Chicago, 1946, Wayne Miller

Chicago after WWI had become the epicenter of a demographic revolution that some city residents welcomed …and others abhorred.

The Great Migration was in full swing just as the 1919 race riots broke out, the bloodiest in the country that Red Summer.  The violence began after a weekend of racial skirmishes at a Lake Michigan beach, culminating in the drowning of a black teenager, Eugene Williams, who had been stoned by a white mob enraged that he had swum into a ‘whites only’ area.  That was the spark, but deeper factors were at work.

1919 Chicago Race Riot map

Chicago was experiencing the first of several waves of migration from the South.  The demographic revolution meant that almost overnight, the South Side emerged as a social, cultural, and institutional center for African Americans.  Many Black veterans were returning from the War, too, and ready to take their rightful place.  This was all occurring at the same time as massive immigration from Eastern Europe and other places continued.  White Chicagoans grew uneasy with all the changes and perceived threats to the status quo.  But the presence of Black people was, to many, too great an indignity.

Whites feared that Black workers would depress wages and undermine union power.  Whites feared the Black vote because they feared Blacks having power. Whites feared what they saw as the “Negro invasion” and viewed their Black neighbors as enemies.

The 1920s had meant an upsurge in Black culture and awareness, but it was accompanied by a violent backlash by whites, from the rebirth of the Klan and an epidemic of lynching, to extreme housing segregation.  That backlash was on harsh display in Chicago. The city’s white real estate agents created new tactics in segregation, including a restrictive covenant: an agreement from white homeowners that they would not sell to nonwhites. By this and other blatantly racist measures, racial exclusion was enforced.

Three girls in Bronzeville, Milwaukee

Black Americans coming to Milwaukee experienced the same.  The hoped-for better life that drove them north was not exactly the reality. They found racial hostility just as real as it was in the South and life proved difficult. Those who had been prominent politicians, professionals, and business people in the South lost status in the North.  Banks refused to give housing loans outside of certain boundaries, and societal prejudice shut them out of most of the city.  Hiring was deeply discriminatory.  Especially when jobs became scarce, Black men were last to be considered, if considered at all.  Company guards knew to stop Black job seekers at the gates.  Black workers were the first to feel the impact of the Great Depression and by the end of the 1930s, half of all African American men in Milwaukee were unemployed.

The American cities that had been ‘receiving stations’ of the Great Migration ultimately became the most segregated cities in the country, Chicago and Milwaukee at the top of the list.

Barbershop in Bronzeville, Chicago

But the energy, talent, and ambition of Chicago and Milwaukee’s Black populations could not be suppressed.  Both Bronzevilles were places of rich culture, arts, flourishing businesses, and strong community.  Both Bronzevilles would experience radiant golden eras.

Chicago would be the successor to Harlem as the Black capital of America during the 1940s, but Milwaukee experienced a parallel flourishing as well.


Bronzeville, Milwaukee woman

Walnut Street (near 12th), Bronzeville, Milwaukee

Bronzeville Milwaukee men with car

In Milwaukee, Bronzeville was the vibrant economic and social heart of the city’s African American community.  Decades of thriving culture there lent the neighborhood an esteemed status among Milwaukee’s ethnic enclaves.

Because African Americans were not allowed in white clubs and hotels, they created their own hot entertainment district.  It became a self-sufficient economic community with renowned nightlife entertainment. Bronzeville was the center of Milwaukee’s jazz scene, bringing people from the city and beyond together.  Walnut Street became such an essential artery of Milwaukee nightlife that it transcended racial divides and welcomed white and black patrons alike at the “black and tan” clubs there.  In midcentury Milwaukee, this was one of the only points of racial integration.  Major clubs in Bronzeville hosted nationally famous artists, including Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Nat King Cole, and Billie Holiday.  By 1953, there were 87 social clubs listed in Milwaukee’s “Negro Business Directory.”

Walnut Street, Bronzeville, Milwaukee

Bronzeville, Milwaukee

Bronzeville Milwaukee women

Milwaukee’s Walnut Street offered everything one could want.  It was lined with African-American businesses, including hotels, restaurants, shops, markets, funeral parlors, barbershops, pool halls, and taverns, as well as the offices of lawyers, doctors, and real estate agents.  It was the best place in town for Black people of all ages to see and be seen.  There was the popular Larry’s Frozen Custard, a place where young people listened to rhythm and blues on the jukebox.   There was the Regal Theater, a small, unassuming movie house that became in the 1950s the most popular indoor gathering place for the Black community.  There was the Harlem Record shop, the Booker T. Washington YMCA, and the Milwaukee Globe newspaper offices.  Milwaukee’s Bronzeville was a thriving city within a city, strong and tight.

Milwaukee bus drivers

10th & McKinley, Bronzeville, Milwaukee

Two people who lived and went to school in Milwaukee’s Bronzeville were Chicago Mayor Harold Washington and Oprah Winfrey.

After Harolds’s mother had left the family in the 1920s, his father, a lawyer living on the south side of Chicago, sent Harold, only four years old, and his brother to the Catholic boarding school at St. Benedict the Moor on Milwaukee’s State Street.  The nuns were strict, and Harold and his brother soon rebelled against the regimentation. They ran away repeatedly, often somehow making it back to Chicago.  But after three years their father finally gave up and enrolled them in a public grade school …back in Chicago.

Two Bronzeville boys, Milwaukee

Oprah had been born in rural Mississippi but in 1960 at the age of 6 moved to Milwaukee to live with her mother on 9th Street off of North Avenue.  She moved back and forth between her parents for a number of years.  Oprah recalled a memorable Christmas in Milwaukee when she was 12 years old and living on North 10th Street.  Her mother was working as a housemaid in suburban Fox Point and told Oprah that Santa Claus was not coming that year because there just wasn’t money to buy presents. But on Christmas Eve, nuns from St. Benedict the Moor surprised them by bringing food and toys for Oprah and her siblings.  Oprah attended Lincoln Middle School and was transferred to Nicolet High in Glendale, before moving back to Tennessee to live with her father and finish high school.

Housing in Bronzeville, Milwaukee

Housing in Bronzeville, Milwaukee, 1936 (1926 N 9th St)

Regal Theater, Chicago

Bronzeville cabaret, 1941

In Chicago, the pulsing energy of Bronzeville was located at the crowded corners of 35th and State and 47th and Grand Boulevard.  People came to mingle, shop, conduct business, dine and dance, and experience the energy of the Black Metropolis. The crowds were made up of the diverse mix of people in Bronzeville: young and old, workers and professionals, the poor and the prosperous.

Dining at the Palm Tavern, Bronzeville, Chicago

Chicago’s Bronzeville was known for its nightclubs and dance halls.  The jazz and blues attracted scores of listeners and admirers. Venues like the Savoy Ballroom-Regal Theater complex and the Sunset Cafe rivaled Harlem’s Apollo Theater in music, film, and live performance.

Savoy Ballroom

Bronzeville, Chicago

Some of the most celebrated Americans hailed from Bronzeville, including musicians Louis Armstrong, Sam Cook, Dinah Washington, Quincy Jones; gospel music pioneers Mahalia Jackson and Thomas A. Dorsey; choreographer Katherine Dunham; sociologist Horace Clayton; journalist-writer and social activist Ida B. Wells; aviation pioneer Bessie Coleman; Olympic legends Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalf; Negro League baseball founder Andrew Rube Foster; and boxer Joe Louis.  The Harlem Globetrotters originated in Chicago’s Bronzeville in 1926.  They chose the name Harlem because it was then considered the center of Black American culture – although they wouldn’t actually play there until decades later – and the name Globetrotter to emphasize the team’s international touring.

African American doctor Daniel Hale Williams pioneered open-heart surgery in Bronzeville’s Provident Hospital. The Chicago Defender and Chicago Bee were Black daily newspapers of national distribution and influence. The Wabash Avenue YMCA established the nation’s first Black History Month.

Bronzeville Chicago family

Shopping in Bronzeville, Chicago

Bronzeville boys on Easter, 1941, Chicago

Bronzeville, 1941, 47th & Indiana, Chicago

As we mentioned, both Milwaukee and Chicago Bronzevilles featured a Regal Theater.

Milwaukee’s 400-seat Regal Theater opened in 1917 and would become a Bronzeville fixture until it closed in 1958.  The theater would be demolished in 1973.

Milwaukee’s Regal Theater on Walnut Street

Chicago’s 3,000 (leather-clad) seat Regal Theater, part of the Balaban and Katz chain, opened in 1928 and was a popular nightclub and music venue featuring motion pictures and live stage shows.  Its lavish interior combined Spanish, Moorish, and Far-East motifs, plush carpeting and velvet drapes …and the atmospheric-style theater.  It would also be demolished in 1973.

Chicago’s Regal Theater interior, 1941

The end for Milwaukee’s thriving Bronzeville came rather quickly and unceremoniously.  Its demise did not come from within but rather, from outside forces.  The neighborhood met its untimely fate in a grossly misguided attempt at urban renewal.

After Congress passed the Housing Act of 1949, the City of Milwaukee targeted rundown housing in Bronzeville for redevelopment with the goal of rebuilding fewer, more expensive, homes to replace the so-called slums.  Soon, construction of the North-South freeway (Interstate 43) tore through the neighborhood.   As many as 1,000 businesses were evacuated and more than 8,000 homes were demolished.  Vibrant Walnut Street was essentially erased.  Bronzeville’s people were displaced and ultimately scattered throughout Milwaukee. It was a complete disruption and uprooting of community life.  Bronzeville had, in the 1960s, been systematically destroyed.  As a longtime resident put it: “Urban renewal and the freeway crashed through our neighborhood, demolishing a way of life.  They did what they wanted to do: they destroyed the inner city.”

Razing Bronzeville, Milwaukee

North-South Freeway (I-43) construction, Milwaukee County Courthouse view north

Walnut Street bridge historic markers, Milwaukee

Although the Walnut Street strip is unrecognizable today, historic markers – fittingly cast in bronze -have recently been erected on the bridge over I-43, the highway that cut through the neighborhood.  The four markers serve as physical witnesses of what once was.  The text tells the Bronzeville story with Walnut Street at the center.  It reads: “In most cities across the nation, African Americans were denied access to the newer and more affluent parts of those cities. Milwaukee was no exception…  They responded to this segregation by putting their energy into developing their own community, transforming this ‘ghetto’ or ‘inner city’ into a lively and exciting business, social and entertainment district…known as Bronzeville.  …  This area thrived until the freeway construction and urban renewal projects … removed these homes and businesses in order to build the present-day Walnut Street.”

A look around at today’s Walnut Street with its relatively sanitized streetscape, drives home the sense of loss.

In Chicago, Bronzeville fell into decline after the end of racially restricted housing. Upper and middle-class families moved away.  Crowding and poverty overwhelmed the neighborhood.

Like Milwaukee, so-called “urban renewal” was a driving force.  After World War II policymakers began a series of efforts aimed at modernizing dilapidated neighborhoods. They planned to tear down single-family houses and apartment buildings to replace them with ever-larger public housing complexes.  A large proportion of Chicago’s public housing facilities were sited in Bronzeville. Over time many of the complexes became neglected. With the lack of resources and maintenance, by the 1980s, facilities like Bronzeville’s Ida B. Wells Homes, Stateway Gardens, and Robert Taylor Homes were dangerous and decrepit.  Demolition of Chicago’s public housing – the largest in the country – began.  With several vast public housing tracts torn down, as well as empty lots leftover from housing demolitions, by the early 2000s Bronzeville found itself with over 2,000 city-owned vacant lots.  Efforts to develop these lots have been spotty over the years.

A famous apartment complex in Bronzeville, called Mecca Flats, built as a hotel for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair – and designed by the same architect as Milwaukee’s Federal Building: Willoughby J. Edbrooke – after the Fair became an apartment complex.  It grew legendary because of its design and also because of Gwendolyn Brooks’ poems about her life there.  But in the early 1940s, IIT, the Illinois Institute of Technology, had its eyes on the site.  After a decade-long battle, Mecca Flats was razed in 1952.  S.R. Crown Hall, designed by Mies van der Rohe, took its place.

Mecca Flats, Chicago

Today, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive runs through both Bronzevilles: the long, north-south boulevard in Chicago, and in Milwaukee, it was the eastern boundary – the former 3rd Street.

And there is renaissance energy sparking in both cities’ Bronzevilles today.

In 2000, then-Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist proposed a plan to reinvest in the old Bronzeville neighborhood.  The plan sought to revitalize part of the old district on North Avenue, between 4th and 7th Streets, anchored by America’s Black Holocaust Museum.

Milwaukee’s historic Bronzeville has been reimagined as distinct neighborhoods, including Haymarket, Hillside, Halyard Park, and Triangle North.  Along with commercial development, there have been substantial efforts to re-energize the cultural ambiance that Bronzeville was once known for.

Student mural in Bronzeville, Milwaukee

Annual festivals celebrate the strong roots of jazz and the arts in the neighborhood, such as Bronzeville Week every August and the Bronzeville Art Walk.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, is lined with African American-owned businesses.  Today, historic Bronzeville contains art studios, an arts center, theater companies, many public murals, sculptures, and some of Milwaukee’s most beautiful architecture.  Restaurants, such as the beloved Garfield 502, are reminiscent of the neighborhood’s past, featuring good food – and blues and R&B musicians.

After the neighborhood was identified as a food desert with no fresh produce to speak of, a full-service grocery store moved in at North and Martin Luther King Drive, occupying what was slated to be a dollar store.  Pete’s Fruit Market addresses the need for fresh food options and hires most of its employees from the surrounding neighborhood.

The Bronzeville Advisory Committee works to ensure that the neighborhood that became famous in the 20th century will enjoy a lasting legacy.  Milwaukee’s Bronzeville is a good example of cultural conservation that is already proving to be a gift to the city.  Milwaukee’s Bronzeville vividly lives on in the memories of people who grew up there …and will now be passed on to those who come after.

Story of Bronzeville mural, Chicago

Chicago’s Bronzeville is today a city landmark district known as ‘Black Metropolis–Bronzeville.’  Neighborhood groups and business interests work toward rebuilding the national center of Black urban commerce and art, that ‘city within a city.’  Revitalization is driven by entrepreneurial African Americans who value the community’s rich history and are dedicated to keeping it alive for generations to come. Restaurants, shops, and other businesses have begun to flourish.  Black heritage tours guide visitors to many sites within the historic community.  Architectural landmarks, many of which have been restored, include the original Chicago Defender Building, the Chicago Bee Building, and the Wabash Avenue YMCA.  Bronzeville’s superb built environment is being rediscovered.

Renovated and restored older homes complement the new housing open to all income levels. The community group Housing Bronzeville encourages homeownership for moderate-income families in order to promote long-term stability in the neighborhood.  Their goal is to return Bronzeville to the mixed-income community it had been during its twentieth-century heyday.

After Bronzeville’s public housing projects were torn down, private developers came in and built new single- and multi-family housing. With this increase in market-rate housing, there has been an influx of higher-income residents.  But, unlike gentrification in other Chicago neighborhoods, many of the wealthier Bronzeville residents are African American, who wish to return to a historic Black neighborhood.

Bronzeville Chicago today

The histories of Chicago and Milwaukee’s Bronzevilles are complex stories of struggle and pain, resilience, and regeneration.  These extraordinarily vibrant parts of our cities have been unappreciated, underestimated, neglected, passed over, forgotten. But despite all of that, African Americans in Chicago and Milwaukee have long enhanced and transformed our cities.  There is passion and commitment now to preserve and promote what Bronzeville embodied.  This story began over a century ago, and it lives on today.

If you’d like to learn more, I recommend the following:

1919: Poems, the book by Eve L. Ewing

Southern Exposure: The Overlooked Architecture of Chicago’s South Side, by Lee Bey

The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson

A Street In Bronzeville, by Gwendolyn Brooks

“In The Mecca,” a poem by Gwendolyn Brooks

“For My People,” a poem by Margaret Walker (her recorded reading is at the Poetry Foundation website)

“Mecca Flats Blues,” a song by Jimmy Blythe

The Third Coast, by Thomas Dyja

City of Scoundrels, by Gary Krist

The Folded Map Project, in Chicago, by Tonika Lewis Johnson

The Chicago Bronzeville Historical Society

“Talking Black in America,” a documentary series and project

“Blueprint for Bronzeville,” documentary

Milwaukee’s Bronzeville: 1900-1950, by Paul H. Geenen

“Remembering Bronzeville,” a Milwaukee documentary by Karen Slattery

“Bronzeville,” at the City of Milwaukee website


The Wisconsin Black Historical Society and Museum (located in Milwaukee)

Thanks so much for joining me.  I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions.  You can leave them at the blog post for this episode, where I’ve got many great photos of both Bronzevilles at WendyCityChicago.com

If you would like to know more about the title of this podcast, take a listen to Episode 1.

Many thanks to my son, Zack Goehner, for his brilliant graphic design work.

Intro music: “Chicago Blues,” by the Kenny Dorham Quintet

Background music:

“Mecca Flat Blues,” performed by Albert Ammons (1939)

“Mecca Flat Blues,” performed by Priscilla Stewart with Jimmy Blythe (1924)

“Walking Blues,” performed by Playing For Change

“Chicago Is Just That Way,” by Eddie Boyd

“Swingin’ The Blues,” Count Basie (1941)

“Trouble of the World,” Mahalia Jackson (1959)

“Shine,” Louis Armstrong

“Believe I’ll Go Back Home,” The Davis Sisters (1960)

“The Jazz Band Ball,” Bud Freeman and His Famous Chicagoans (1940)

“Zoot Suit,” Dorothy Dandridge (1942)

Outro music, “I Lost My Baby In Milwaukee,” by KEdKE

See you next time.

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