Bill Introduced Would Create Bronzeville National Heritage Area

View of historical Bronzeville mansions via The City of Neighborhoods

A bill in 2021 was introduced to create a new national heritage area in Bronzeville dedicated to its significance in the nation’s culture. The two bills H.R. 670 and S.511 are now being reviewed by a subcommittee on National Parks before being voted on by the House and senate respectively. The bills would create the Bronzeville-Black Metropolis National Heritage Area, becoming one of three in the state and are backed by US Representative Bobby Rush, who recently announced won’t be seeking a 16th term, and Senator Dick Durbin.

Monument to The Great Migration (left) and Victory Monument (right) in Bronzeville via Illinois Tech Magazine

The idea of creating a historical area here is not new, conversation and planning for such began in 2005 and an initial bill was introduced in 2016 without success. The most recent would set the boundaries of the district to roughly from 18th Street to the north to 71st Street to the south and from Lake Michigan to the east up to Washington Park and the Dan Ryan to the west. See the map below for a more detailed outline.

Boundaries of Bronzeville-Black Metropolis National Heritage Area via Google Maps

During the Great Migration, Chicago saw over 500,000 Black Americans migrate from the south, many of which settled in Bronzeville establishing a flourishing neighborhood, often called a city within a city, filled with many first. The area was known for its Black-owned businesses with a bustling economy in which dollars exchanged hands within the community multiple times before leaving, unlike today.

Historical view of Pilgrims Baptist Church via National Trust for Historic Preservation

Bronzeville is also rich in architecture and history, within the area’s boundaries can be found landmarks like Pilgrim Baptist Church. Designed by Louis Sullivan and recognized as the birthplace of Gospel music with artists like Aretha Franklin singing within its halls, Martin Luther King Jr. preaching within its walls, and Bessie Coleman, the nation’s first Black female and first Native-American licensed pilot. Also nearby is the now closed Wabash Avenue YMCA which was the birthplace of Black History Month, which began as a locally celebrated week.

Current view of Wabash Avenue YMCA via Illinois Tech Magazine

Other firsts include Supreme life Insurance, the first northern Black-owned insurance company; Douglass National Bank, the first nationally chartered Black owned bank; J.T.H. Woods, the first Black-owned hardware store; and the area is the birthplace of the NAACP. Many iconic musicians and writers have come from the area as well including Gwendolyn Brooks, whose Mecca Flats poem is about the building demolished where IIT’s Crown Hall now stands; Louis Armstrong; Nat King Cole; and many others.

Current view of Overton Hygienic Building, once home to Douglass National Bank via Illinois Tech Magazine

By 2010 Bronzeville had lost 75 percent of its population due to various factors including the construction of the interstate which cut it off from the city, however, in the latest census areas within it grew by 16 percent. If enacted the area would receive national protection and funding for various restorative projects, that funding however would be a 1:1 match from non-federal contributions. This would also add an extra layer of approval for future construction projects and tougher regulations for restoration projects within the boundaries.

ARC Innovation Center at Bronzeville Lakefront Development Site. Rendering by GRIT Chicago

ARC Innovation Center at Bronzeville Lakefront Development Site. Rendering by GRIT Chicago

However its implementation could bring plenty of positives and a push for new developments which we have seen already in the area with the Michael Reese mega-development with a new welcome center and museum, redevelopment of The Forum, Invest South/West initiative, Park Boulevard, and renovations to Prairie Shores. No further information has been shared about its passing, but with the opening of the Pullman National Monument locals are hopeful that its implementation would help further bolster the area and bring in new jobs.

Links to the bills can be found here: H.R. 670S.511.

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10 Comments on "Bill Introduced Would Create Bronzeville National Heritage Area"

  1. Time to save the historic South Side of Chicago.
    Note: The Pilgrims Baptist Church was built by Cong KAM (“People of the West”) as the oldest Synagogue in Chicago, and operated until 1924 when the congregation moved to Hyde Park. Louis Sullivan was indeed the architect. It would be amazing to restore the architecture which is well documented, and give the church new life as both a religious and music-cultural center for the next 100 years.

    • Frederick Nachman | January 4, 2022 at 12:13 pm | Reply

      Technically, KAM moved to Kenwood, not Hyde Park. Hyde Park Boulevard is the dividing line.

      • Paula Robinson | January 5, 2022 at 12:56 pm | Reply

        Have you seen the fabulous designs for the new Chicago Gospel Museum on this site. It inspires the old and new and both Cultures.

  2. Bronzeville should be the equivalent of a south-side Lincoln Park but with much more diversity. Hopefully the urban fabric keeps being rebuilt and more mid and high rise muti-family housing is constructed. It’s potential is enormous. A major commercial corridor is needed to keep the progress going forward.

    • Paula Robinson | January 5, 2022 at 12:54 pm | Reply

      The city of Chicago has this planned through its ISW program,,, it is happening on 43rd, 47th and Cottage Grove!

  3. Not sure this is such a great idea. Seems like it would have the same effect as a Historic District, raising property values, upping the cost of new development, and displacing residents. Curious who is pushing for this.

    • Paula Robinson | January 5, 2022 at 1:03 pm | Reply

      The community has been pushing for this for more than two decades. Bronzeville-Black Metropolis NHA already host several Historic Districts.: Prairie Ave, Priaire Calumet/Giles , Oakwood, Mies, Washington Park etc. We are looking at the becoming an international Heritage Tourism Destination and using Historic Presevation to create sustainable Community Economic Development strategies in these growth industries. A lack of jobs creates displacement. Let this homeowners in this districts enjoy the true equity in their home values.

      • Okay, fair point! Just need the investment in the neighborhood and if this will legitimately help with that then I’m all for it

  4. Steve River North | January 5, 2022 at 10:25 am | Reply

    Need to clean up those borders. Keep it all East of I90, fill in that space below 55th. Looks like they are claiming parts of Chinatown, might need to move the top below Cermak or better below I55. I get the Hyde Park cutout.

    Much easier to say I55 south between I90 and the lake to 47th then over to Cottage Grove down to 71st.

  5. Paula Robinson | January 5, 2022 at 1:07 pm | Reply

    The map does not include Chinatown. It is the authentic map of Chicaog’s Black Belt. Via Restrictive Real Estate Covenants. The map concedes Central Station (12th Street) but begins at 18th Street and must include Record Row/Motor Row… Chess Records etc.

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