Federal bill would designate Bronzeville as heritage area

April 11, 2022

Jazz icons, historical monuments and civil rights — these are just part of the many reasons why the U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush has been fighting for over five years to make Bronzeville a national heritage area. Stretching from 22nd Street to 63rd Street, this area is chock-full of things to do and places to see. 

The designation would not only honor and recognize the deep history of Bronzeville, but would also be accompanied by federal funding and likely attract more tourism. 

In 2016 Rush introduced The Bronzeville-Black Metropolis National Heritage Act. Although it was initially dismissed by lawmakers, Rush reintroduced the bill in 2021, and it has since gained traction. The bill would designate the area from 18th Street to 71st Street, and from Canal Street east to Lake Michigan.

 It would also encourage travelers from different parts of the world to come visit, increasing tourism. After the city council approved a $3.8 billion redevelopment project for the former Michael Reese Hospital site as well as receiving $10 billion in federal funding, Bronzeville residents should expect a heightened amount of people visiting the area, especially if this bill is passed. 

“People come here for the culture,” said Bernard Turner, executive director of the Black Metropolis National Heritage Area Commission, which is supporting the bill. “They come here for the art. They want to learn about gospel music and jazz music. It’s the culture, it’s the people and it’s the legacy of all those people who did the work.”

Recognized historical sites include the Ida B. Wells Barnett house, the Great Northern Migration monument and the Chicago Defender Building. The historical significance of this neighborhood is one of the reasons Benita Phipps, owner of A Lotta Good Stuff, believes Bronzeville should become a national heritage area.

“I think Bronzeville deserves it, Bronzeville is to Chicago as Harlem is to New York, and it is a very historic area that everybody loves,” Ms. Phipps said.

While the rest of Chicago did not welcome Black people, in Bronzeville most of the establishments were “Black and Tan,” meaning only Black and multiracial people were allowed in to enjoy the music and company. Bronzeville has been a large influence on jazz music, being famous for their jazz clubs, some of which are still open to this day.

Bronzeville is not only known for its culture but also its long-standing restaurants. One of these is Pearl’s Place, a restaurant known for its buffet style and soul food. Owner Darell Green also takes great pride in having served influential figures such as Ethiopian royals, rapper Future and musician Jerry Butler. 

Established at the start of the Great Migration, Bronzeville’s rich history and culture has garnered it the title as Chicago’s “Black Metropolis.” The neighborhood has been home to many history-changing figures such as journalist Ida B. Wells, author Richard Wright and blues musician Muddy Waters.

The economic boom from tourism would also benefit parts of the community previously overlooked, according to Block Club Chicago. Residents can expect the investments that would come with the National Heritage Act, including $10 million in federal funding for the neighborhood, to spur economic growth for local businesses.

Many Bronzeville residents like Ms. Phipps are thankful for the financial support from outside sources, especially given the financial struggles due to the pandemic.

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