The Black Chicago Renaissance: An Introduction
In the early 1930s, as the famed Harlem Renaissance of black cultural achievement was winding down, a new surge of African American creativity, activism and scholarship began to flower in the South Side Chicago district then becoming known as “Bronzeville.” This new “Chicago Renaissance” was fueled by two unprecedented social and economic conditions: the “great migration” of Southern blacks to Chicago in search of economic opportunity and perceived security from lynch mob rule and the crisis of the Great Depression that followed.
Over the preceding two decades, Chicago’s black population had soared from 44,000 in 1910, the community grew to more that 230,000 by 1930. For the most part the new migrants were confined to a rigidly segregated zone which extended from 22nd street on the north to 63rd street on the south, and from the Rock Island railroad tracks west of State Street to Cottage Grove Avenue on the east. Richard Wright called its miserable, overcrowded housing the “world of the kitchenettes.”
The migrants went to work in meatpacking plants and steel mills, garment shops and private homes. After 1929, however, many people lost their jobs as the Great Depression hit the African American community hard. Out of this crisis emerged new ideas and institutions, new political activism and a revitalized community spirit. In electoral politics, the black community switched from the Republican Party to the Democrats. A new labor movement, the CIO, sank roots into the South Side, radical social activism flourished. By the early 1930s, the South Side black community began to call itself by a new name: Bronzeville.
The cultural upsurge in Bronzeville in the 1930’s and 1940’s took a course distinct from that of its Harlem predecessor. From 1932 through 1950, Chicago black community witnessed and participated in, startling developments in literature, in music, social science and journalism. In addition to the national impact of its creative achievements, one of the most distinguishing features of the Chicago Renaissance was the extraordinary integration or developments in the humanities and social sciences with each other, and with the heightened political awareness of the period. This extraordinary development was aided by the birth of community-based institutions which fostered the new cultural creativity. (See BCR Timeline.)
During the 1930’s and 1940’s, the term “Chicago Renaissance” was not used to describe the period and its achievements, In later years, however, as many of its leading figures gained national and international fame, a sharper awareness of the meaning of those years emerged. In 1979, Chicago Renaissance artist Eldzier Cortor recalled that among those whose “burgeoning talents shaped a kind of Thirties/Forties Renaissance in Chicago were the dancers Katherine Dunham and Talley Beatty; writers Richard Wright and Frank Yerby, Margaret Walker, Willard Motley and John H. Johnson (publisher of Ebony); sociologist writers St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Cayton (who later co-authored Black Metropolis); entertainers Nat King Cole, Ray Nance and Oscar Brown, Jr.); photographer Gordon Parks; poet Gwendolyn Brooks, and the artists Elizabeth Catlett and Hughie Lee Smith.
Text by Michael Flug with contributions by Cynthia Fife-Townsel and Belinda Robinson-Jones
Additional Introductory Essays
The Black Metropolis
- Slideshow and Essay: "From Riots to Renaissance: The Black Renaissance" [DuSable to Obama: Chicago's Black Metropolis, WTTW 11, Chicago, IL]
- Preview: Davarian L. Baldwin, Chicago’s New Negroes: Modernity, the Great Migration & Black Urban Life. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008 [books.google.com]
- Preview: St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Cayton, Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993 edition [books.google.com]
- Charles Walton, “47th Street and South Park Boulevard -- Bronzeville’s Downtown” [Jazz Institute of Chicago]
- Essay: Chicago Black Renaissance Literary Movement [Heidi Sperry, et. al, Preliminary Summary of Information, Submitted to the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, July 2009]
How to use the BCR Internet Resource Guide
The guide is organized into the five major topics which composed the Black Chicago Renaissance followed by sample lesson plans:
- Politics, Economics, Labor
- Timeline, Bibliography, Tours, Links
Each section begins with an introduction. We are especially grateful to Michael Flug and Dr. B.J. Bolden for giving us permission to use their text that had been on the former “Flowering” website. Whenever possible, we sought permission to use materials. However, due to the volume and type of material available on the Black Chicago Renaissance, we relied on other means to make articles and books available to teachers and students: the hyperlink, JSTOR for articles and Google Books for book excerpts. With the linking strategy, we were able to connect interested users directly to the materials that could be read online, sought at libraries, or purchased. (JSTOR is available at the Chicago Public Library branches.)
The internet resource guide serves as in introduction for teachers and students to the Chicago Black Renaissance. We invite teachers to use its resources to create their own units and activities.
Institutions of the Black Chicago Renaissance: An Introduction
In a cramped geographic space, extending hardly more than a mile from north to south, and less than that east to west, the institutions which nurtured the literature, music, art, political awareness and social science of the Chicago Renaissance emerged and grew. There were libraries, community centers, churches, theaters and clubs. Those who recall black creativity in Bronzeville can name the corners on which the Regal Theater, Lincoln Center, the Wabash YMCA, the Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments, and the Savoy Ballroom stood. The George Cleveland Hall Branch of the Chicago Public Library, with its “Special Negro Collection,” opened at 48th and Michigan Avenue in 1932. Parkway Community House moved to 51st and South Parkway in 1941. Club DeLisa rose on one side of State at 55th street, later to re-open on the other side. The new gospel music made by Pilgrim Baptist Church could be heard at 33rd and Indiana.
It is impossible to imagine the Chicago Renaissance without the institutions which sustained it. Carter G. Woodson’s famed Association for the Study of Negro Life and History was founded in Chicago at the Wabash YMCA. The first performances of many of Thomas A. Dorsey’s new gospel music compositions were held at Ebenezer Baptist Church. Lincoln Center and Parkway Community House often hosted the premiers of works by Chicago Renaissance playwrights.
The institutions of the Chicago Renaissance offered sites where writers, artists, musicians and social scientists could present their latest work to Bronzeville’s citizens for discussion, appreciation and criticism. At the same time, they brought artists together with writers, musicians with journalists, sociologists with political activists. The interchange of ideas helped power the creative surge of the period. The Hall Branch Library, Parkway Community House and the South Side Community Art Center were the three institutions to present the widest spectrum of Renaissance events; one night a poetry reading by Frank Marshall Davis, another night an art exhibit by Charles White, followed soon after by a discussion on the issues facing black workers in unions. The character of the institutions helped make the Chicago Renaissance a truly multi-disciplinary movement.
Text by Michael Flug and Dr. B.J. Bolden
George Cleveland Hall Branch Library: A Community Mecca Led by Vivian Harsh and Charlemae Hill Rollins
CPS Teacher Madeline R. Stratton Authors First Black History Curriculum
Howalton Day School, 1946-1986
Responding to the overcrowded, deteriorating conditions in public schools in Chicago’s black communities, educators June Howe Currin, Doris Allen Anderson and Charlotte B. Stratton founded the Howalton Day School, a summer vacation school, in 1946. The school, initially located in the Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments at 47th and Michigan Avenue, began with an enrollment of nineteen students. In the succeeding years, Howalton moved into its permanent home at 47th and Dearborn Street, expanded its schedule to serve students the entire year, added six grades and boasted an enrollment of 160 students by 1957. Howalton was the first private, non-sectarian independent black school in the country. Its curriculum emphasized the educational, physical, emotional and creative development of its students. Howalton Day School closed in 1986.
Source: Anne Meis Knupfer in The Chicago Black Renaissance and Women’s Activism. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006), 83-86.
American Negro Exposition
The American Negro Exposition, held July 4 through September 2, 1940, at the Chicago Coliseum, touted “75 years of Negro achievement,” the “Diamond Jubilee” of black emancipation from slavery, and pledged, according to a 1940 article in the Pittsburgh Courier, to provide “a strikingly realistic picture of the race’s participation in the nation’s history–its sharecroppers and its scientists, its dispossessed families along with its distinguished citizens.” The exposition included exhibits celebrating black contributions in all facets of American life including agriculture, art, sports, labor and theater. The exposition sponsored “The Art of the American Negro,” an exhibition of nearly one century of black artistic expression. Chicago Black Renaissance artists William Carter and Charles Davis won prizes for their work.
- Ted Poston, “Gibson, Youthful Director, Organizing Genius of Fair,” the Pittsburgh Courier, 15 June 1940.
- American Negro Exposition, “75 years of Negro Achievement”
- Catalog Description, “The Art of the American Negro,” Catalog, William McBride Papers,Vivian Harsh Research Collection, Chicago Public Library
- Cover of the program for the Exhibition of the Art of the American Negro [William McBride Papers, Chicago Public Library Digital Collections]
- Floor Plan of the Chicago Coliseum Where the Diamond Jubilee Exposition was held July 4-September 2, 1940 [Library of Congress]
- Margaret Walker’s, “Epic for the Jubilee Year of Negro Freedom”
THE VISUAL ARTS
“There is a small group of young Negro artists in Chicago that will be heard from one of these days,” wrote Willard Motley in 1940. “At present they are struggling in garage and top floor tenement studios…They paint for the love of it. There is much talent in the group. Today the names of these Chicago Renaissance artists – Richmond Barthe, Margaret Taylor Goss [Burroughs], William Carter, Archibald Motley, George Neal, Gordon Parks and a host of others – loom large in the history of American art.
To place this second wave of African-American Chicago artists in context of art history, see the visual time line of African-American Visual Culture 1901-2013 developed by the Nasher Museum of Duke University.
Their works spanned the full range of artistic endeavor. These new Bronzeville artists made names for themselves in oil paintings and watercolors, sculptures and murals, lithographs and photographs. They also created a close and supportive community of artists, and a shared sense that they were developing something new. For many of them, however, the creative environment which stimulated their work extended beyond the ranks of visual artists, to the political awareness then deepening in Black Chicago. Charles White put it bluntly, “I feel that the job of everyone in the creative fields is to picture the whole social scene...Paint is the only weapon I have with which to fight what I resent. If I could talk I would talk about it. Since I paint, I must paint about it.”
Nearly all of the artists were supported, financially and spiritually by two institutions with which they worked. One was a national New Deal creation, the Federal Art Project of the WPA. The other, though supported by the Federal Art Project, was a uniquely home-grown development, the South Side Community Art Center. These two institutions were involved in presenting art exhibitions which focused national attention on the art of the Chicago Renaissance. The first of these was the “Exhibition of the Art of the American Negro,” a part of the legendary American Negro Exposition, which opened at the Chicago Coliseum from July 4 to September 2, 1940. The art exhibit, curated by Howard University’s Alonzo Aden allowed Bronzeville’s residents to see the works of famous black artists from all parts of the country. The inclusion of several Chicago artists in the exhibit, and the selection for Charles White’s “There Were No Crops This Year” as the best black and white work in the show, highlighted Chicago’s emergence as a major center for African American Art.
In May, 1941, the formal dedication of the South Side Community Art Center by Eleanor Roosevelt was accompanied by an exhibition of paintings, sculptures and drawings by Chicago’s new black artists. The exhibition, entitled, “We Too Look at America,’ offered a full range of works by all the artists of the Renaissance for the first time in a single show.
- Preview: Stacy I. Morgan, Rethinking Social Realism: African American Art and Literature, 1930-1953 (2004) [books.google.com]
- Essay: “A Force for Change: African American Art and the Julius Rosenwald Fund” (2009) [Spertus Museum]
- South Side Community Art Center [Encyclopedia of Chicago]
- Essay: Margaret Taylor Burroughs, “Chicago’s South Side Community Art Center: A Personal Recollection," 1987 [Illinois Women’s Artist Project]
- Membership Material: "Open the Doors to the South Side Community Art Center," undated
- Press Release: "First Lady Dedicates Chicago Art Center," 1941
- Commemorative Booklet, Eleanor Roosevelt Dedication of the South Side Community Art Center, May 7, 1941 [William McBride Papers, Chicago Public Library Digital Collections]
- South Side Community Art Center Digital Images [Mapping the Stacks: A Guide to Black Chicago’s Hidden Archives, University of Chicago]
- “The South Side Community Art Center: Renaissance in Black Art” by Donald S. Baker, Sr. from Seanna magazine.
- "Chicago's New South Side Art Center" by Alain Locke, from Magazine of Art, 1941.
- "Ten Negro Artists on Chicago's South Side" by Bernard Goss, from Art Chronicle, 1936
- Picturing America
- Biography of Charles White [Charles White: Images of Dignity]
- Works by Charles White [Charles White: Images of Dignity]
- Preview: Andrea Barnwell, Charles White, The David C. Driskell Series of African American Art, Volume 1 (2002)
- Oral History Interview with Charles Wilbert White, 1965 [Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution]
- Paul von Blum, “Charles White: An Artist for Humanity's Sake,” from the Journal of Pan African Studies (Dec. 2009): 27-36.
- Louie Robinson, “Charles White, Portrayer of Black Dignity,” from Ebony, July 67, 25-36. [google books]
Margaret Taylor Goss Burroughs
Archibald Motley, Jr.
- Biography of Eldzier Cortor [Art Institute of Chicago]
- Biography of Gordon Parks [Gale Cengage Learning]
- Oral History Interview with Gordon Parks [Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution]
- “Self Portrait” [William McBride Papers, Digital Collections, Vivian Harsh Research Collection, Chicago Public Library]
- Photo Essay: Gordon Parks, 1912-2006, Renaissance Man, Time
WRITING: Literature, Journalism, and Sociology
The creative output of Chicago-based writers during the Renaissance included some of the greatest names in African American literature: Richard Wright, Margaret Walker, Arna Bontemps, Gwendolyn Brooks, Willard Motley, Frank Marshall Davis, Fenton Johnson, Theodore Ward, and a host of lesser known writers.
Richard Wright is at the center of the Chicago Renaissance, the towering figure whose achievement first forced the world to pay attention to what was taking place in black Chicago. Wright used Chicago as a starting point in his epochal novel Native Son, and in his Twelve Million Black Voices, the great essay and photographic work on the black migration. His career is a prime example of the remarkable interplay between creativity, scholarship and radical politics that formed the core of the Chicago Renaissance.
The literary atmosphere in Chicago during the period was nurtured by several key institutions. At the Hall branch library’s “Book Review and the Lecture Forum” created by librarian Vivian G. Harsh to highlight the Special Negro Collection she was promoting. Writers could meet and share their literary creations with everyday citizens. The South Side Writer’s Project, variously by Richard Wright and Margaret Walker, provided another literary crucible for the emergence for African American literature in Chicago. The Writer’s group included Frank Marshall Davis, Ted Ward, Fern Gayden and other young black writers.
Novels were at the center of the literature of the Chicago Renaissance. In addition to Richard Wright, such key figures as Arna Bontemps and William Attaway published important novels dealing with slave revolts and the migration to the North, key themes in the movement for black history awareness growing during the period.
Talented poets emerged during the Renaissance. Margaret Walker’s first collection of poetry, For My People, won the Yale Younger Poets award in 1942. Frank Marshall Davis who worked for the Associated Negro Press, published four volumes of poetry. Gwendolyn Brooks’ first book of verse, A Street in Bronzeville, appeared in 1945. The previous year, Alice Browning and Fern Gayden launched the Chicago based journal Negro Story, an important but little known creation which published poems and short stories.
Text by Michael Flug and Dr. B.J. Bolden
Preview: Blood on the Forge [books.google.com]
Biography of Arna Bontemps [Poetry Foundation.org]
Poems by Arna Bontemps
“A Black Man Talks of Reaping” [Poetry Foundation.org]
“God Give to Men” [Modern American Poetry, Department of English, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign]
Books Authored or Edited by Arna Bontemps
Preview of Bontemps novel on Black Thunder, Boston: Beacon Press, 1992 edition [books.google.com]
Preview: American Negro Poetry, New York: Hill and Wang, 1974 revised edition
Frank Marshall Davis
- Biography of Richard Wright [Ann Rayson, Modern American Poetry, Department of English, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign]
- Article Preview: Robert Bone, “Richard Wright and the Chicago Renaissance” Callaloo, (Summer 1986): 446-468 [JSTOR.org]
- Front Matter and Excerpts: Twelve Million Black Voices, New York: Thunder Mouth Press, 2002 edition [books.google.com]
- “Blueprint for Negro Writing” Excerpt in Angelyn Mitchell, ed. Within the Circle: An Anthology of African American Literary Criticism from the Harlem Renaissance to the Present (1994) [google books]
- Excerpt: Native Son, New York: Harper Collins, 2003 edition [books.google.com]
- Excerpt: Black Boy, New York: Harper Collins, 2006 edition [Harper Collins]
- “On Richard Wright’s Poetry,” by Bill Mullen [Modern American Poetry, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign]
- Poems by Richard Wright
JOURNALISM AND BROADCASTING
Chicago, in the period of the Renaissance was, quite arguably, the center of Black journalism in the United States. Bronzeville’s residents could choose their newspapers from among the Chicago Defender, the Chicago edition of the Pittsburgh Courier, the Chicago Bee, the Chicago Whip, and several smaller community papers. All of these papers printed articles from the national Black wire service, the Associated Negro Press, also a Chicago-based institution.
News of African Americans in the South and across the nation was carried regularly in the newspapers, often with emphasis on the home states of many Chicagoans. It was through these papers that Bronzeville residents learned about the Scottsboro boys, the war in Ethiopia, the unionization of the sleeping car porters, and a host of other national stories. Leading social scientists of the Chicago Renaissance presented their views to the community in regular newspaper columns.
Each of the newspapers carried news and information about Bronzeville. A great deal of space was given to news of meetings held by organizations, lodges, music and art events, women’s and social clubs, as well as church news. The Black press served as both the “town crier” for events and as the recorder of the community’s social, cultural and intellectual life.
Columnists played a major role in the African American newspapers of the time. There were gossip columns such as the Defender’s long running “Charlie Cherokee,” a pseudonym for several different writers on the paper’s staff. Political analysis often merged with literary efforts in the columns. In 1943 Langston Hughes introduced his famous character, Jesse B. Semple in his Defender column. Gwendolyn Brooks first published poetry appeared in the Defender from 1934 to 1936. The Chicago Whip’s columnists campaigned for jobs for Bronzeville’s residents, while the Chicago Bee sought to raise consciousness of its readers by selling Black history and literature through the paper.
The role and readership of the Black press in Bronzeville was at its height during World War II. The papers were filled with “news form the camps” where Black soldiers trained, and later with the exploits of Black war heroes at the front. The Pittsburgh Courier earned much respect for its “Double V’ campaign, calling for victory at home against racism and against the Axis powers abroad.
At the beginning of World War II, a young man from Arkansas, John H. Johnson, launched a small Black magazine publishing venture with the appearance of Negro Digest. By 1945 Johnson added what was to become the most widely read Black magazine anywhere, Ebony. It was followed six years later with the pocket magazine, Jet. In time, Johnson Publishing Company would have the most far-reaching impact of any of the ventures in Black journalism which emerged from the Chicago Renaissance.
Text by Michael Flug and Dr. B. J. Bolden
- Photo: Marian Campfield at the Chicago Defender [Doris Saunders Papers, Chicago Public Library Digital Collections]
- Photo: Richard Durham [Charles Walton Papers, Chicago Public Library Digital Collections]
- Audio: Episodes of “Destination Freedom” [Internet Archive]
- Article: Charles Walton, “Al Benson - the Godfather of Black Radio” [Jazz Institute of Chicago]
- Preview: Barbara Dianne Savage, Broadcasting Freedom: Radio, War, and the Politics of Race, 1938-1948 (Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1999) [books.google.com]
- Excerpt: J. Fred MacDonald, “Radio’s Black Heritage: Destination Freedom, 1948-1950, Phylon (1st Qtr 1978), 66-73 [JSTOR.org]
- Excerpt: Bill Mullen, “Popular Fronts: Negro Story Magazine and the African American Literary Response to World War II,” African American Review (Spring 1996), 5-15 [JSTOR.org]
POLITICS AND ECONOMICS
In the 1930’s and 1940’s, the Great Depression fell with devastating force on African Americans in Chicago. Last hired, black workers were the first to be sacrificed to the business cycle. Faced with increasing discrimination and economic deprivation, black Chicago responded with a renewed activism and sharpened political awareness and new developments in sociology. In electoral politics, black Chicago, which had sent Oscar DePriest to Congress in 1929 as the first African American in Congress in the twentieth century, later sent William Dawson (1943-1970) and Arthur Mitchell (1935-1943). Progressive attorney Earl Dickerson was elected to city council in 1939. However, as independent black politics became increasingly absorbed in the Democratic Party machine, radical trends in black politics emerged. Mass campaigns like “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work” were organized to bring pressure to bear on businesses to hire more blacks. Religious, civic and business activists popularized the “double dollar doctrine” which encouraged black consumers to expand economic opportunity and ‘advance the race” by frequenting black business. Communists and other radicals organized unemployment councils which fought Bronzeville housing evictions and demanded adequate relief.
Nationally, black Chicago’s radical upsurge helped spur the founding of the National Negro Congress in Chicago in 1936. The Congress pledged to fight Jim Crow and press for black economic and social advancement. During World War II, A. Phillip Randolph‘s call for a “March on Washington” to demand jobs in defense plants and integration of the armed forces found ready ears and activists in Chicago. With Chicago as one of its strongholds, the March on Washington Movement became the spearhead of the “Double V” campaign against racism at home and fascism abroad. Bronzeville followed international events as well. With the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935, black Chicagoans organized boycotts and “Hands off Ethiopia” campaigns and volunteered to fight to defend Ethiopia. The Spanish Civil War drew black activists; Oliver Law, a commander of an interracial unit, was one of several black Chicagoans who fought in Spain against Franco’s fascist armies.
All this political upsurge had its counterpart in music and dance, literature and art, and the social sciences, particularly history and sociology. A new crop of black sociologists, historians and Negro history activists rooted in an avowedly self-determined black culture challenged the intellectual status quo. Black sociologists produced books and studies which changed the course of sociological inquiry, culminating with the classical Black Metropolis by Horace Cayton and St. Clair Drake. The Black History Movement grew rapidly in Chicago; supporters of Carter G. Woodson’s Association for the Study of Negro Life and History organized celebrations of Negro History Week, and helped build black history institutions which in turn powered the Chicago Renaissance.
Text: Michael Flug and Dr. B.J. Bolden
- Interview: Eloyse Cannon’s Interview with Alderman William Dawson [Illinois Writers Project Papers, Vivian Harsh Research Collection, Chicago Public Library]
- Essay: “Negro Congressmen” [Illinois Writers Project Papers, Vivian Harsh Research Collection, Chicago Public Library]
- Audio: Interview with author Marcus Shephard on his book about Earl B. Dickerson from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio program, “Eight Forty Eight,” (July 31, 2006)
- “The War’s Greatest Scandal” [Hall Branch Archives, Chicago Public Library Digital Collections]
- Charles White, “The Return of the Soldier” [Library of Congress]
- “Why Should We March?” [Library of Congress]
- Alan Wald, “African Americans, Culture and Communism (Part 2): National Liberation and Socialism,” Against the Current, 2000
- L.D. Reddick, “What Should the American Negro Reasonably Expect as the Outcome of a Real Peace,” The Journal of Negro Education, 1943 568-578 [JSTOR.org]
- Preview: William J. Grimshaw, “Bitter Fruit: Black Politics and the Chicago Machine, 1931-1991” (1994) [books.google.com]
Labor Organizing: An Introduction
The Black labor movement during the Black Chicago Renaissance provided both immediate economic opportunities for African Americans and a strong organizational infrastructure for the Long Civil Rights Movement.
Attracted by new work opportunities brought on by the expansion of the labor market during WWI as well as stories of freedom and equality from the South’s debt peonage sharecropping and lynching, Africans Americans moved North as a part of the Great Migration. Although many of these new arrivals found that Chicago fell short of their economic and social hopes and expectations, African Americans were able to build a thriving community with an active black-owned business sector. Most migrants who settled in Chicago found work in domestic service or in the steel mills, packinghouses and other industrial areas of the region where employers segregated them into low-paying, dangerous, dirty, and less-skilled positions. Few municipal jobs were open to blacks despite the number of people in the community that used that city services, such as streetcars.
One of the better service jobs available to African-Americans were Pullman porters and Redcaps (baggage handlers). Their economic position and standing in the community made them the base of the middle class that held sway within and outside of the African American community. With the exception of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) which A. Philip Randolph started organizing in 1925 and a number of segregated local unions such as musicians and waiters, African-Americans were barred from membership in labor unions. Although they had gained some small organizing victories in integrated packinghouses during WWI, those efforts were crushed by employers in the early 1920s and replaced by dummy or company unions.
When the Great Depression devastated the country’s economy, pro-labor support from the Roosevelt administration encouraged workers to move to direct action and energized the Black citizenry with the idea that organizing could bring results. The early thirties saw protests at individual sites over construction hiring and a much larger protest over the lack of African-American streetcar conductors and the racist treatment they faced as passengers. In addition, Unemployed Councils’ actions against evictions and the Chicago Whip newspaper’s “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work” boycott campaign in 1930 spurred on community action. These small victories, coupled with a coherent large scale organization that could coordinate the increased activities of the community, led to the creation of the National Negro Congress in 1936 of which labor leaders Randolph and Chicagoan Ishmael Flory headed at different periods. The Congress brought both labor and other civil rights groups together throughout the country to work towards ensuring justice to blacks. By 1941, organized African Americans groups, led by Randolph, could threaten to march on Washington, which forced Roosevelt to desegregate war industry with the establishment of Executive Order 8802 and the Fair Employment Practices Committee.
In addition, direct action was used by the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) to bring about widespread integrated organizing in key industries such as steel and meatpacking. Integrated leadership and actions that made the slogan “Negro and White: Unite and Fight” a reality accounted for the success of the CIO unions. Ironically, African Americans who had been placed in the toughest parts of the plants were the lynchpin to the union’s success as they controlled major means of production such as the packinghouses’ killing floors.
These labor actions along with the social and cultural activities among artists, writers, actors, musicians, and community organizers constituted the Black Chicago Renaissance. Their combined efforts served to create a strong union culture and economic gains that would provide the economic backbone for the modern civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
Text: Elizabeth Robbins
Timeline for Major Labor Events during the Black Chicago Renaissance
American Negro Labor Congress held (CPUSA-sponsored; led by African Blood Brotherhood members)
Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) union founded
National Negro Labor Conference held in Chicago
League of Struggle for Negro Rights conference held in Chicago (CPUSA-sponsored)
National Unemployment Councils convention held in Chicago (CPUSA-sponsored)
“Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work” campaign begun by the Chicago Whip
Railway Labor Act amended (to include collective bargaining agreements)
National Labor Relations Act passed
BSCP recognized as an offical union
Chicago Council of Negro Organizations formed
National Negro Congress formed in New York City
1st National Negro Congress convention held in Chicago – draws over 5,000 people
Charles Burton elected 1st president of National Negro Congress
Joint Council of Dining Car Employees (JCDCE) formed in Omaha; headquartered in Chicago
BSCP wins $2 million judgment against Pullman Company & is offically recognized as bargaining unit for porters
A. Philip Randolph elected 2nd president of National Negro Congress
Ishmael Flory founds the Southside Labor Council in Chicago
International Brotherhood of Red Caps union founded in Chicago by Willard Townsend
A. Philip Randolph resigns as president of National Negro Congress
Ishmael Flory becomes president of National Negro Congress
United Transportation Service Employees of American (UTSEA) union formed in Chicago
Dining Car & Railroad Food Workers Union founded in Chicago – led by ex-UTSEA who were CPUSA members
National Negro Congress petitions the United Nations regarding the conditions of African Americans in the United States
City of Chicago officailly enacts legislation barring discrimination in employment practices
- Excerpt: Erik Gellman, “‘Carthage Must Be Destroyed’: Race, City Politics, and the Campaign to Integrate Chicago Transportation Work, 1929-1943,” Labor, 2005, 81-114 [labor.dukejournals.org]
- Excerpt: Robert Korstad and Nelson Lichtenstein, “Opportunities Found and Lost: Labor, Radicals, and the Early Civil Rights Movement” Journal of American History, (December 1988), 786-811 [JSTOR.org]
- Excerpt: Lawrence S. Wittner, “The National Negro Congress: A Reassessment,” American Quarterly, (Winter 1970), 883-901 [JSTOR.org]
- Abstract: Beth Tompkins Bates, Pullman Porters and the Rise of Protest Politics in Black America, 1925-1945, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001 [University of North Carolina Press]
- Video Excerpt: “Miles of Smiles, Years of Struggle: The Story of the Pullman Porter” [California Newsreel]
Click here to view and download multi-disciplinary lesson plans created by teachers of the NEH Landmarks and Culture program, "Renaissance in the Black Metropolis: Chicago, 1930s-1950."
How is History Told? Textbooks, Crispus Attucks, and the Black Chicago Renaissance" by Sarah Stucky, Niles North High School, Skokie, IL
"The Policy Game: Figuring Out a Complex Society" by Kristen Machczynski, Bronzeville Scholastic Institute and Shanta’ McKay, Mt. Carmel High School
"African-American Labor Movement and the Long Civil Rights Movement" by Elizabeth Robbins, Brooks College Prep High School and Gregory Simmons, Harlan High School
"How I Told My Child About Race: Brooks, Walker, and Reflecting Ourselves" byTwumwa Grant, South Shore School of the Arts
Lessons Plans Related to the Black Chicago Renaissance from Across the Worldwide Web
The following archival material can be found at the Vivian Harsh Collection, Carter G. Woodson Regional, Chicago Public Library:
- Illinois Writers Project/ “Negro in Illinois” Papers
- Horace Cayton Papers
- Langston Hughes Papers
- Doris Saunders Papers
- Era Bell Thompson Papers
- William McBride Papers
- Charlemae Rollins Papers
- George Cleveland Hall Library Archives
- Howalton School Archives
- Rita Coburn Whack Papers
- Claude Barnett Papers (microfilm)
- A. Phillip Randolph Papers (microfilm)
Andrews, William L., Frances Smith Foster and Trudier Harris. Oxford Companion to African American-Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Grossman, James, Ann Durkin-Keating, and Janice Reiff, eds. Encyclopedia of Chicago. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.
Schultz, Rima Lunin and Adele Hast, eds. Women Building Chicago: A Biographical Dictionary 1790-1990. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001.
Tracy, Steven C. Writers of the Black Chicago Renaissance. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2011.
Books & Pamphlets
American Negro Exposition. Exhibition of the Art of the American Negro, 1851-1940. Assembled by the American Negro Exposition, On view July 4 to September 2, 1940. Chicago: Tanner Art Galleries, 1940.
The Art Institute of Chicago. African Americans in Art: Selections from The Art Institute of Chicago, 1999.
Baldwin, Devarian. Chicago’s New Negroes: Modernity, the Great Migration, and Black Urban Life. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007.
Barber, Lucy G. Marching on Washington: The Forging of an American Political Tradition. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.
Barlow, William. Looking Up at Down: The Emergence of Blues Culture. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989, Chapter 9 "Looking Up at Down."
Barnwell, Andrea D. Charles White, The David C. Driskell Series of American Art, Vol. 1, Rohnert Park, CA: Pomegranate Communications, 2002.
Bates, Beth Thompkins. Pullman Porters and the Rise of Protest Politics in Black America, 1925-1945. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.
Bolden, Barbara Jean. Urban Rage in Bronzeville: Social Commentary in the Poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks. Chicago: Third World Press, 1999.
Broderick, Francis L., and August Meier. Negro Protest Thought in the Twentieth Century. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1965.
Brooks, Gwendolyn. Blacks. Chicago: Third World Press, 1987.
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Burns, Ben. Nitty-Gritty: A White Editor in Black Journalism. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 1996.
Cavalcade of the American Negro. Compiled by the Workers of the Writer’s Program of the Week Projects Administration in the State of Illinois. Chicago: Diamond Jubilee Exposition, 1940.
City of Chicago. Home Front Unity in Chicago, 1945.
---, Mayor’s Conference on Race Relations, February, 1944.
Davis, Arthur P. and J. Saunders Redding, eds. Cavalcade: Negro American Writing from 1760 to the Present. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1971.
Davis, Frank Marshall. 47th Street. Prairie City, IL: Decker Press, 1948.
Davis, Frank Marshall, Living the Blues: Memoirs of a Black Journalist and Poet. Edited by John Edgar Tidwell. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992.
Drake, St. Clair and Horace Cayton. Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City. 1945. Reprint, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.
Floyd, Samuel A. Jr., Power of Music: Interpreting Its History from Africa to the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.
Foner, Eric. The Story of American Freedom. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1998.
Garfinkel, Herbert. When Negroes March: The March on Washington Movement in the Organizational Politics of the FEPC. New York: Atheneum Press, 1969,
Gellman, Erik. Death Blow to Jim Crow. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012, Chapter 1.
Gibson, Truman K. Knocking Down Barriers: My Fight for Black America. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2005.
Green, Adam P. Selling the Race: Culture, Community, and Black Chicago, 1940-1955. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.
Grimshaw, William J. Bitter Fruit: Black Politics and the Chicago Machine, 1931-1991. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.
Halpern, Rick. Down on the Killing: Black and White Workers in Chicago’s Packinghouses, 1904-1954. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997.
Hine, Darlene Clark and McCluskey, John, Jr. eds. The Black Chicago Renaissance Reader. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2012.
Hirsch, Arnold. Making of the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago, 1940-1960. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.
Hogan, Lawrence D. A Black National News Service: The Associated Negro Press and Claude Barnett, Teaneck: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2002.
Horowitz, Roger., Negro and White, Unite and Fight: A Social History of Industrial Unionism in Meatpacking, 1930-1990. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997.
Huggins, Nathan. Harlem Renaissance. New York: Oxford University Press, 1971.
Hughes, Langston. Not Without Laughter. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1969.
Johnson, John H. and Bennett, Lerone. Succeeding Against the Odds: The Autobiography of a Great American Businessman. Chicago: Johnson Publishing Company, 1992.
Kersten, Andrew. Race, Jobs, and the War: The FEPC in the Midwest 1941-1946. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000.
Knupfer, Anne Meis. The Chicago Black Renaissance and Women’s Activism. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006.
Lewis, David Levering. When Harlem Was in Vogue. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.
Locke, Alain. The New Negro, An Interpretation. New York: A & C. Boni, 1925.
Logan, Rayford, ed. What the Negro Wants. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1944.
Mangione, Jerre. The Dream and the Deal: The Federal Writers’ Project, 1935-1943. New York: Little, Brown & Co., 1972.
Mooney, Amy. Archibald J. Motley. The David C. Driskell Series of American Art, Vol. 4, Rohnert Park, CA: Pomegranate Communications, 2004.
Mullen, Bill V. Popular Fronts: Chicago and African-American Cultural Politics, 1935-1946. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999.
Rampersad, Arnold., The Life of Langston Hughes. New York: Oxford University Press, vol. I, 1986, vol. II, 1988.
Rydell, Robert. Fair America: World’s Fairs in the U.S., Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2000.
Savage, Barbara. Broadcasting Freedom: Radio, War & the Politics of Race. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999.
Sitkoff, Harvard. New Deal for Blacks: The Emergence of Civil Rights as a National Issue; The Depression Decade. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978.
Spear, Allan H. Black Chicago: The Making of a Negro Ghetto, 1890-1920. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967.
Till-Mobley, Mamie and Christopher Benson. Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crimes that Changed America. New York: Random House, 2003.
Walker, Margaret. For My People. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1942.
---, “How I Told My Children About Race.” Speech and Power. Gerald Early, ed. Vol. 2, New Jersey: Ecco Press, 1993. 495-498.
Ward, Jr., Jerry. Trouble the Water: 250 years of African American Poetry. New York: Mentor/Penguin, 1997.
Woolley, Lisa. American Voices of the Chicago Renaissance. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2000.
WPA and the Black Artist, Chicago and New York [exhibition March 22-April 23, 1978] Chicago Public Library Cultural Center Exhibit Hall presented by the Chicago Council on Fine Arts and the Chicago Public Library.
Wright, Ellen and Michel Fabre, eds. Richard Wright Reader. New York: Harper and Row, 1978.
Wright, Richard. Black Boy. New York: Perennial, 1937.
Backer, Matt. “Black Spirit: Works on Paper by Eldzier Cortor,” online article at http://www.tfaoi.com/newsmu/nmus127.htm (Indiana Museum of Art).
Bone. Robert. “Richard Wright and the Chicago Renaissance.” Callaloo no. 28 (Spring 1986), 446-468.
Brooks, Gwendolyn. "Poets Who Are Negroes." Phylon, Vol. 11 No. 4 (4th Qtr. 1950), p. 312
Conroy, Jack. “Memories of Arna Bontemps: Friend and Collaborator,” Negro American Literary Forum 10, no. 2 (Summer 1976): 53-57.
Farran, Don. “Recollections of the Federal Theatre” http://www.lib.uiowa.edu/spec-coll/Bai/farran.htm at University of Iowa Special Collections http://www.lib.uiowa.edu/spec-coll/
Flug, Michael. “Vivian Harsh.” In Women Building Chicago: A Biographical Dictionary, 1790-1990, edited by Rima Lunin Schultz and Adele Hast, 359-361. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001.
Fraden, Rena. “The Cloudy History of Big White Fog: The Federal Theatre Project, 1938.” American Studies, 29 (Summer 1989): 5-28.
Gellman, Erik, “Cartage Must be Destroyed: Race, City Politics, and the Campaign to Integrate Chicago Transportation Employment, 1929-1943.” Labor: Studies in Working Class History of the Americas, 2 (Summer 2005): 81-114.
Gordon, Rita Werner. “Change in the Political Alignment of Chicago’s Negroes During the New Deal,” Journal of American History 56, no. 3 (December 1969): 584-603.
Goss, Bernard. "Ten Negro Artists on Chicago's South Side," Art Chronicle, 1936: 18
Hall, Delaney. "Lights and Shadows," The Poetry Foundation (February 15, 2012)
Hirsch, Arnold. “Massive Resistance in the Urban North: Trumbull Park, Chicago, 1953-1966.” Journal of American History 82, no. 2 (September 1995): 522-50.
Kimble, Lionel. ‘I Too Serve America: African American Women War Workers in Chicago, 1940-1945,” Journal of Illinois State Historical Society 93, no. 4 (Winter 2000/2001): 415-434.
Locke, Alain. "Chicago's new South Side Art Center," Magazine of Art, 34, no. 7 (August-September, 1941): 370-374.
MacDonald, Fred. “Radio’s Black Heritage: Destination Freedom, 1948-1950.” Phylon 39, no. 1 (Spring 1978): 66-73.
McClain, Tiffany. “Heritage House: Susan Cayton Woodson’s Southside Condo is More than Just her Home – It’s also an Art Gallery and One-of-a-Kind History Museum,” Chicago Reader 32, no. 4 (October 25, 2002): 1 and 20-22.
Mullen, Bill V. “Popular Fronts: ‘Negro Story’ Magazine and the African American Literary Response to World War II, African American Review 30, no. 1 (Spring 1996): 5-15.
Rachleff, Peter, “Rethinking Cultural Politics –Politics of Color,” Callaloo 23, no. 4 (Fall 2000): 1516-19.
Smith, Preston H. II. "The Quest for Racial Democracy," Journal of Urban History, Vol. 26, No. 2 (January 2000): 131-157.
Takara, Kathryn Waddell, “Frank Marshall Davis; A Forgotten Voice in the Chicago Black Renaissance,” Western Journal of Black Studies 26, no. 4 (Winter 2002): 215-228.
Tidwell, John Edgar. “An Interview with Frank Marshall Davis,” Black American Literature Forum 19, no. 3 (Autumn 1985): 105-108.
Websites & Other Media
Chicago Public Library. “Flowering of the Chicago Black Renaissance.” DVD, videotapes of the 1989 conference on the Flowering of the Chicago Black Renaissance are available for viewing at the Woodson Library, Harsh Collection)
Library of Congress American Memory. “The New Deal Stage: Selections from the Federal Theatre Project, 1935-1939. http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/fedtp/ftwpa.html
Library of Congress. “Cavalcade of the American Negro” http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/african/afam013.html
National Park Service. ‘Teaching with Historic Plans Lesson Plans: Chicago’s Black Metropolis: Understanding History Through Place. http://www.nps.gov/nr/twhp/wwwlps/lessons/53black/53black.htm
Nelson, Stanley, produced and directed. The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords. 1999.
Plotkin, Wendy. “Racial and Religious Restrictive Covenants.” http://www.public.asu.edu/~wplotkin/DeedsWeb/
Radio Interview on WBEZ with doctors Erik Gellman, Lionel Kimble, and Davarian Baldwin.
Television interview on WTTW with Dr. Darlene Clark Hine.
TIMELINE of the Black Chicago Renaissance from 1932 to 1955
Chicagoans suffer the Great Depression. The depression hits African Americans particularly hard as 40 to 50% of the city’s black workers are unemployed by 1932.
January - George Cleveland Hall Branch of the Chicago Public Library opens.
Under the leadership of Vivian Harsh, the George C. Hall Branch, through its “Book Review and Lecture Forum” sponsors presentations by the literati of the Chicago Black Renaissance.
August – Thomas A. Dorsey, the “Father of Gospel Music” composes the gospel music standard, “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.”
Richard Wright founds the South Side Writers Group. Members include Arna Bontemps, Margaret Walker and Frank Marshall Davis.
February – Inaugural meeting of the National Negro Congress convenes in Chicago.
Dancer and choreographer Katherine Dunham, whose studies and integration of African and Caribbean styles of movement changed modern dance founds the Negro Dance Group in Chicago. The company is dedicated to showcasing African and African-Caribbean dance.
March - Richard Wright’s Native Son is published. The work brings Wright to national prominence.
July-September - American Negro Exposition is held to commemorate the 75th anniversary of African-American emancipation from slavery.
Cavalcade of the American Negro, compiled by the Illinois Writers’ Project of The Works Project Administration is published for the American Negro Exposition.
May - South Side Community Art Center is formally dedicated by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. The Center, a home for artists such as Margaret Taylor Burroughs, Charles Davis and Archibald Motley, Jr., expands art in the community and provides employment for artists.
Parkway Community House, formerly the Good Shepherd Community Center, expands its services and facilities with its move to 5120 South Parkway. Under the direction of sociologist Horace Cayton, Parkway provides social services as well as art, cultural and recreational classes to its clients.
Margaret Walker’s For My People wins the Yale Younger Poets Award.
May - Chicago teacher Madeline Robinson Morgan Stratton Morris’ black history curriculum is accepted by the Chicago Public Schools.
November – Publisher John H. Johnson launches Negro Digest magazine.
July – Reacting to riots in Detroit in June, Mayor Edward J. Kelly appoints the Chicago Mayor’s Committee on Race Relations to study conditions of African American Chicagoans and recommend measures to improve race relations in the city. Renamed the Chicago Commission on Human Relations in 1947, the Commission is now a permanent city government department.
February - The Mayor’s Conference on Race Relations convenes. Sponsored by the Mayor’s Committee on Race Relations, the conference addresses issues such as employment, housing and law enforcement.
May – The Negro Story magazine, a showcase for short story fiction by and about African Americans begins.
Al Benson, called the “Godfather of Black Radio,” broadcasts for the first time on Chicago’s WGES.
Horace Cayton and St. Clair Drake’s Black Metropolis, a groundbreaking sociological work on African American life in Chicago, is published.
May/June – The Chicago Conference on Home Front Unity convenes. Held in cooperation with seventy local and national organizations, conferences hear discussions on issues such as “The Myths of Prejudice” and “How Can Public Education Promote Greater Unity.”
November - John H. Johnson begins publishing Ebony magazine. Ebony becomes the most widely read African American magazine.
Howalton Day School, the first African American private school in Chicago, is founded.
Frank Marshall Davis publishes 47th Street.
June - Destination Freedom, writer Richard Durham’s dramatic radio broadcast of the lives of black heroes first airs.
May - Gwendolyn Brooks wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her book, Annie Allen. She is the first African American to win the award.
August - Fourteen-year old Emmett Till is killed in Money, Mississippi. National outrage about the killing provides one spark for the modern Civil Rights Movement.
Chicago Public Library, “Chicago Renaissance, 1932-1950: Images and Documents from the Vivian G. Harsh Collection,” sections “Literature,” “Journalism,” “The Arts,” “Social Science and Political Awareness of the Chicago Renaissance,” and “Institutions.”
Tracey Deutsch, “Great Depression,” in The Encyclopedia of Chicago (online edition). http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/542.html. Accessed date February 2, 2010.
Erik Gellman, “National Negro Congress,” in The Encyclopedia of Chicago (online edition), http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/3214.html. Accessed date February 1, 2010.
Darlene Clark Hine, “Chicago Black Renaissance,” in The Encyclopedia of Chicago, edited by James R. Grossman, Ann Durkin Keating and Janice L. Reiff, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004): 131-132.
David F. Krugler, “Chicago Mayor’s Committee on Race Relations,” in Organizing Black America: An Encyclopedia of African American Associations, edited by Nina Mjagkij, (New York: Garland Publishing, 2001): 145.
Christopher Manning, “Review: The Black Metropolis,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, 100:4 (Winter 2007/2008): 395-402.
Jay Mulberry, “The Parkway Community House and the Golden Age of Bronzeville,” http://www.hydeparkhistory.org/herald/ParkwayCenter.pdf. Accessed February 1, 2010.
Wendy Plotkin, “‘Hemmed In: The Struggle Against Racial Restrictive Covenants and Deed Restrictions in Post-World War II Chicago,” The Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 94:1 (Spring 2001): 39-69.
Barbara Dianne Savage, Broadcasting Freedom: Radio, War, and the Politics of Race, 1938-1948 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999).
Sally Sommer, “”Katherine Dunham,” Free to Dance: Biographies, PBS website, found at www.pbs.org/wnet/freetodance/biographies/dunham.html. Accessed date February 1, 2010.
“Special Presentation: Katherine Dunham Timeline,” from Selection from the Katherine Dunham Collection at the Library of Congress, The Library of Congress website, http://lcweb2.loc.gov/diglib/ihas/html/dunham/dunham-timeline.html, accessed date February 1, 2010.
The University of Chicago, “The Alice Browning Papers,” Mapping the Stacks: A Guide to Black Chicago’s Hidden Archives,” at http://mts.lib.uchicago.edu/artifacts/browningartifacts.html. Accessed date February 1, 2010.
“Voice of Al Benson May,” Jet magazine, 32:22 (September 7, 1967): 54-55.
TOURS & MAPS
47th Street/South Parkway District map
The Labor Trail: Chicago’s History of Working Class Life and Struggle
Places from the Black Chicago Renaissance
Black Metropolis Heritage Area: Official Historic Landmarks
DuSable to Obama: Chicago’s Black Metropolis [WTTW Chicago]
South Side Community Art Center
Association for the Study of African American Life and History
Arna Wendell Bontemps Museum
WTTW Chicago- Chicago Stories, “Remembering 47th St”
Bronzeville Historical Society
DuSable Museum of African American History
Vivian Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature, Chicago Public Library
Library of Congress American Memory FSA-OWI photos
A Guide to Harlem Renaissance Materials, Library of Congress
About the Black Chicago Renaissance Internet Resource Guide
One of the best kept secrets in Chicago’s history is the Black Chicago Renaissance, but once you begin to learn about it, you find it was here all along! Though not as famous as its predecessor the Harlem Renaissance, the next generation of artists, writers, musicians came from Chicago amidst the Great Depression and planted the seeds for the modern civil rights and labor movements. This generation that came to fruition after the 75th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation extended the Renaissance into sophisticated political and economic organizing far more than its Harlem Renaissance predecessors.
Moreover, the activist spirit of the Renaissance shaped institutions that are still with us today: DuSable Museum, Johnson Publishing, the South Side Community Art Center and nurtured the talents of award-winning writers such as Gwendolyn Brooks, Richard Wright, Margaret Walker, and artists Gordon Parks and Charles White. These thinkers and activists may be familiar to us, yet most of us may be unaware that they were part of the Chicago Black Renaissance.
In 2007, the Chicago Metro History Education Center convened a group of Chicago-area teachers for a year-long study into the Black Chicago Renaissance called “Destination Freedom” with scholars from the area who were doing cutting-edge work into the Chicago Black Renaissance. Inspired by the “Flowering of Chicago Black Renaissance” organized by Michael Flug, the senior archivist at the Vivian Harsh Collection of Afro-American History and Culture of the Chicago Public Library, the study group was supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Teachers created lessons which could be integrated into a study of mid-20th century US history courses. They decided an internet-based resource guide for teachers to do their own investigation into the Black Chicago Renaissance and create their own studies would be helpful. Study group members saw a web resource guide as a launching pad for students doing their own research for History Fair or other historical inquiry projects.
Study Group Members
Twumwa Grant (School of the Arts HS), Kristen Machczynski (Bronzeville Scholastic Institute), Shanta McKay (Mt. Carmel HS), Adria Mitchell (Payton College Prep HS)Haneefa Muhammed (Peirce Elementary), Molly Myers (Lindblom Math & Science Academy), Katie O’Keeffe (Oak Park-River Forest HS), Lisa Oppenheim (Project Director), Jeremy Peters (Robeson H.S.), Michael Pond (Lindblom Math & Science Academy), Elizabeth Robbins (Brooks College Prep HS), Gregory Simmons (Harlan HS), Sarah Stucky (Niles North HS)
Study Group Scholars
Christopher Benson (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), B.J. Bolden (Chicago State University, professor emeritus), Beverly Cook (Harsh Collection, CPL), Michael Flug (Harsh Collection, CPL), Erik Gellman (Roosevelt University), Adam Green (University of Chicago), Anne Meis Knupfer (Purdue University), Daniel Schulman (Independent Scholar, former curator at AIC).The internet resource site was developed by Theresa J. Pfister with support from Lisa Oppenheim, Chicago Metro History Education Center.