Bronzeville: The Black Metropolis

The large expanse of Chicago’s South Side today called Bronzeville (“the Black Metropolis”) was the site of Chicago’s version of the Harlem Renaissance and was home to many famous African-Americans. Gwendolyn Brooks published poetry in the Chicago Defender, Andrew Rube Foster created Negro League Baseball, and Louis Armstrong kept his trumpet singing at the Sunset Cafe to keep Al Capone off his back.

wells house chicago

Wells House. Chicago, IL

The neighborhood was from the 1920s to the 1940s one of the premiere centers of African-American culture and was fairly affluent and middle class. The Great Depression hit the area hard, bankrupting black-owned businesses, but the neighborhood’s worst enemy proved to be the neglectful and segregationist city government. Because black Chicagoans were restricted (unofficially) from renting and buying property outside of the “Black Belt,” rents were actually higher in the district’s run-down, ill-maintained buildings, owned by white absentee landlords, than in the adjacent, wealthy, white neighborhoods.

Victory Monument, Chicago, IL

Victory Monument, Chicago, IL

In 1941, the city built the infamous and gigantic Ida B Wells housing projects in Bronzeville, which produced devastating and unintended results. Because of segregation, many low-income African-Americans were unable to find housing anywhere else and the projects quickly became overcrowded, while crime and urban blight expanded throughout the neighborhood. In the last decades of the 20th Century the community fell victim to the patterns of urban struggles that afflicted many South Side neighborhoods, as well as other major urban centers (e.g. Detroit, Philadephia, New York City) at that time.

Over the past decade, the neighborhood is seeing major community-driven revitalization efforts, mostly by wealthy and entrepreneurial African-Americans who value the neighborhood’s historic importance. Historic clubs are reopening, and there are a handful of nice coffee shops and restaurants that have opened in recent years. More so than the present, however, the principal attraction remains the neighborhood’s rich history. As a rule, the revitalization efforts have not extended below 47th Street or west of the Dan Ryan Expressway into the Washington Park and Fuller Park neighborhoods, which remain very blighted, with an extraordinary amount of vacant lots and the highest violent crime levels in the city. Unfortunately, this means that 47th Street, which has some major draws, can be a little edgy after dark. But don’t worry about Washington Park the park (as opposed to the neighborhood) — it’s perfectly safe during the day.

For the latest information about the neighborhood, please visit the official website of the Bronzeville Visitor Information Center.

Photo Credit: Victory Monument by Joe Ravi, Ida B. Wells-Barnett House by Tony the Tiger


3501 S. Martin Luther King Drive
Suite One East, Chicago, Illinois 60653
Phone: (773) 819-2055


Information Courtesy of WikiTravel