Event: October 2009 Archives

Don't Be a Stranger: tBtW tours Bronzeville

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bronzeville.JPGBy Hillary Ross

Over the summer, my friends in Montana asked me, "What is the South Side of Chicago like?" While I started to answer their question, I realized I was only describing Hyde Park, which is, of course, not a fair description of the South Side.  The University of Chicago is located on the South Side, yet few students (including myself until recently) can answer this question with observations extending far beyond Hyde Park. The University of Chicago recognizes students rarely venture to the neighboring "Black Metropolis" of Bronzeville, and therefore recently sponsored a South Side Bike Tour and Historic Bronzeville Tour

Before going on the Bronzeville tour, I knew very little about Bronzeville.  Our tour guide, Timuel Black (a notable Bronzeville historian), said this is common. Unfortunately, the history and contributions of Bronzeville are relatively unknown. In a way, Bonzeville, like the rest of Chicago, is plagued with the "Second City" syndrome. New York's Harlem receives far more attention and is the best-known black metropolis, despite the fact that Bronzeville was once actually the largest and most populated Black neighborhood.       

 Bronzeville had equally significant parallel institutions that rivaled Harlem's. While now demolished and historically obscure, Bronzeville's Regal Theater was in its time just as prominent as the Apollo Theater. Louis Armstrong frequently played at the clubs of Chicago's "Black Belt," especially the Sunset Café, which is now an Ace Hardware store. In the churches of Bronzeville, gospel music was born. The best blues music in the nation was performed on 43rd Street. Civil Rights activists like W.E.B. Du Bois and Martin Luther King came to Bronzeville's Quinn Chapel to give rallying speeches of social change.  The Harlem Globe Trotters actually started at Wendell Phillip's High School in Bronzeville. Unfortunately, these claims to fame are no longer readily visible, and because little physical evidence remains, people are unaware of the Bronzeville's history. Nonetheless, Bronzeville's current identity is still infused with the energy to obtain racial equality, gospel music performances, and ubiquitous pick-up basketball games.
Even thought the neighborhood lacks physical evidence to showcase its historical stature, Bronzeville has a thriving, distinct neighborhood culture, making it a worthwhile trip. Moreover, most students on campus deem Bronzeville as unsafe or dangerous--a place to avoid. I completely disagree.  While I would not recommend a solo night trip, I would definitely feel safe visiting the neighborhood with a group of friends during the daytime. 

Here is a list of five feasible (and safe!) Bronzeville excursions I recommend:
1.    Attend a service at Quinn Chapel
2.    Visit the South Side Community Art Center
3.    Go to a Gospel, Blues, or Jazz Concert
4.    Tour the Bronzeville Historical Society Museum
5.    Eat a meal at the Ain't She Sweet Café.

It is a shame that Bronzeville sits in the shadow of Harlem as the "Second Black Metropolis" and goes unnoted and underappreciated in mainstream society. However, it is even more of a shame that many University of Chicago students fail to explore or learn about Bronzeville's rich past and current culture. As a leader of the Bronzeville Historical Society told me, "Tell your friends and classmates to come down and to stop being strangers with their South Side neighbors."   I encourage you to visit Bronzeville. After seeing this neighborhood, you will be able to give a better and more complete description of the South Side community-- one that is far richer and more interesting than just describing Hyde Park.

Hillary Ross is a second-year in the College, and a Contributing Blogger for the Blog that Works. 

by Eric Mcmillan

"What begins as undifferentiated space becomes place as we get to know it better and endow it with values."
            --Yi Fu Tuan, Space and Place

Today I learned something I didn't know before about Chicago. Did you know that there wasn't a single conviction for murder in connection with organized crime in Chicago until 1997? That means no one in Al Capone's era or for a long time afterwards ever spent a day in prison on a murder conviction. This was not what I expected to learn at a poetry discussion.

Chances are good that if you are at the University of Chicago, you probably come from somewhere else. Chicago is not your home, which is to say that you are not from Chicago. You may go so far as to say that you are not of the city, precluding the chance that you might ever give your heart over to it, no matter how long you reside here. But let's face it--you chose to come to school here.

Even in a bubble, even in a microcosm like a university, there is still a tie to the community that informs it, nurtures it, and supports it. If that relationship is functional, than it is almost symbiotic. The university benefits from bringing the community into its walls. Conversely, the community benefits from having students and faculty interact with a community's neighborhoods.  A place is, after all, to a certain extent what you make of it. But, "what has that got to do with poetry?" you might ask.

Questions about shared values, particularly about what it means to be in America's "heartland," are central to the project of the Heartland Exhibit at the Smart Museum. Bill Savage, an English professor from Northwestern University, gave an insightful inaugural lunchtime discussion, the first in a series of such discussions, on Friday, 16 October 2006.

Mr. Savage, a native author as well as academic, charted a course in Chicago's lyric idiom that ranged from Carl Sandburg's eponymous "Chicago" to Tony Fitzpatrick's poem "Pimp Dog" with its companion collage.

Location is important in literature. If the "heartland" is supposed to be a metaphor for how America attempts to re-center its values, argued the guest speaker, than it is important to understand how Chicago writers have been deeply involved with this effort. He cited a tradition that includes authors examining tough, realistic moral and ethical quandaries, writers like Theodore Dreiser, Nelson Algren, and Saul Bellow.

For poets as part of that tradition, Chicago provides rich subject matter, a place to explore the city's inherent identity conflicts. In the course of an hour, we saw how Carl Sandburg eschewed high-minded diction to sound more like the man on the street. We saw how Gwendolyn Brooks explored Chicago spaces in poems like "kitchenette building" and "vacant lot," spaces that are not only physical locations but also expressions of the psyche and temporal distance.

In the poems "Mowing" and "kitty-corner," Stuart Dybek mused on how the city's spaces are continually changing. In the ever-transforming urban landscape, the poet sees the disappearance of public phones and newspaper kiosks as signs of communal disintegration. He begs the question, "what will become of us?"

Tony Fitzpatrick paired word and image to provide a moving meditation on the murder of Fred Hampton, a leader in the Black Panther movement, in 1969, an event that spurred the poet's family to flee their neighborhood.  These poems have a hard edge because they ask tough questions. An artist of integrity takes that scrutiny of the world surrounding her. It is a starting place in an ongoing dialogue about making ours the kind of place we want for a community.

So even if you missed the talk, you have plenty of chances to make an engagement with those kinds of questions. All you have to do is walk over to the Smart Museum and spend an hour or so with the exhibit. Their next talk will be at noon on October 30th when Martin Marty, professor emeritus with the Divinity School, and Daniel Block will speak on religion, nature, and food. Who knows--you might learn something interesting.

Click here to learn more about the Smart Museum's Heartland, and here to learn more about the Chicago Studies-sponsored creative writing contest.

Eric Mcmillan is a graduate student in the Masters of Arts Program in the Humanities

Knowing your Neighbors

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You've eaten your first Garbage Pizza at the Med. You've ridden your bike down Halsted St. with Dean Boyer on the annual South Side Bike Tour. Now, the South Side Solidarity Network wants you to know Woodlawn.

Woodlawn, the low-income neighborhood just south of the University of Chicago campus, has a deep history of conflict and resolution with its ivory-tower neighbor. If you ask third-year graduate student Mark Hopwood, trying to understand this complicated relationship is exactly why students should venture south.  

Hopwood, a member of SSN, shared community lore about the 1893 World's Fair, legendary organizer Saul Alinsky, and the street gang the Blackstone Rangers, with a dozen students and other residents of Hyde Park on the SSN's annual tour of Woodlawn last Sunday afternoon. The tour began on 61st and Ellis Ave in front of the new South Campus dormitory, and proceeded West along 63rd St. to the Cottage Grove commercial district.

"Woodlawn was never a particularly upscale neighborhood," Hopwood said. "But it was a place where you would come to have fun, kind of like the Coney Island of Chicago"

As the group walked Hopwood traced the arc of Woodlawn's development, from a swampland settled by Dutch immigrants in the 1950s to the home of the sprawling Columbian Exposition of 1893, to its current status as a diverse, up-and-coming lakeside neighborhood.

Hopwood was joined by Wardell Lavendar, a community member who has called Woodlawn home for the past 53 years, and has the memories to prove it:

"This street used to be lined with businesses," he said, gesturing to the brick row houses lining 63rd St., once the South Side's commercial district. According to Wardell, commercial activity in the community dropped off substantially when the Green Line, which used to run East above 63rd St. from Cottage Grove to Kimbark, was torn down.

More to know about the University and Woodlawn:

*The University of Chicago made an agreement with the community activist group The Woodlawn Organization (TWO) that it will not develop the campus south of 63rd St.

*In the 1960s, Woodlawn was home to the Black P. Stone Rangers, Half a civil-rights organization and half cocaine-trafficking street gang, the Stones were the most powerful gang in Chicago until an FBI-led crackdown.

*Saul Alinsky, a community organizer famous for the mass power tactics he outlined in his book, "Rules for Radicals," organized in Woodlawn, Back of the Yards, and other Chicago neighborhoods around issues of race and tenants' rights.

How are you getting to know your neighbors?

Links to get you involved in Woodlawn:

Woodlawn Collaborative

UChicago's South Side Solidarity Network's website

STOP Chicago

carnivalsquash.JPGThe South Campus Dining Hall isn't the only place where students should grab food on 61st St. this quarter; October means 30 more days of Chicago's colorful farmer's markets, among them the 61st Farmers Market at the Experimental Station (6100 S. Blackstone).

The baby arugula sold by Genesis Growers here is so fresh and nutty, It's completely ruined the supermarket stuff for me! For Dennis Ryan, the Market's manager, its the organic tomato jam sold by Tomato Mountain farms that can make or break a breakfast (it tastes like an acidic version of traditional apricot jam, he says). Genesis Growers and Tomato Mountain are just two of the dozen or so distributors who peddle their peppers, leafy greens and eggplant between Dorchester and Blackstone every Saturday morning from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nearly all of the farms at the market hail from within a 100 mile radius of Chicago, mostly from Wisconsin and Indiana, according to Ryan.

"We want to support local farmers who grow sustainably, with organic growing practices," he explained. "When you buy local, you're getting produce at the peak of its freshness--so it tastes great--and at the peak of its nutritional value. You're also supporting the local economy."

"We don''t sell food here that we wouldn't want to feed our own families."

And the market offers more than produce that packs a nutritional wallop--for Woodlawn, the neighborhood just south of the University of Chicago campus, it's one of the only places residents can get fresh produce without driving or taking public transit.

View image

The 61st St. Market will move indoors for November and December; in the mean time, check out these links to the market's website, and more awesome area markets:

Sat. 9-2: The Experimental Station and the 61st St. Farmer's Market
Wed. and Sat. 7-1: The Green City Farmer's Market
Thurs. 8-3: Hyde Park Farmer's Market