Thousands of Blacks came to Chicago continuously from 1890 through the 1940's. The largest number of African Americans in Chicago settled between 18th Street on the north and 51st Street on the south State Street on the west and Cottage Grove on the east during the Great Migration. A magical critical mass of a wide variety of people, businesses, churches, and values transformed this area into a vibrant community that contributed to a valued history of Chicago and America.
In the early 20th century, the area was known as the "Black Metropolis," one of the nation's most significant landmarks of African-American urban history. Between 1910 and 1920, during the peak of the "Great Migration," the population of the area increased dramatically when thousands of African-Americans fled the oppression of the south and emigrated to Chicago in search of industrial jobs. The area became a community inhabited by musicians, businessmen, politicians, entrepreneurs, and millionaires. It boasted the nation's first black-owned and operated bank and insurance company, and was an area where African American businesses were established and thrived. During the 1900s, it became the home to several black newspapers and 731 business establishments in 61 lines of work. Of particular note the Binga Bank opened in 1908 by it's founder Jessie Binga, who started in business selling coal and oil from a horse-drawn wagon. By 1929 blacks had amassed an estimated $100 million in real-estate value.
The name Bronzeville seems to have been used originally by the editor of the Chicago Bee, who in 1930, sponsored a contest to elect a "mayor of Bronzeville." The annual election of the "mayor of Bronzeville" grew into a community event. After this people started to use the term "Bronzeville" for the Black Metropolis because it seems to express the feeling that people seem to have about their own community.
Many famous people were associated with the development of the area including: Andrew "Rube" Foster, founder of the Negro National Baseball League; Ida B. Wells, a civil rights activist, journalist and organizer of the NAACP; Bessie Coleman, the first African-American woman pilot; Gwendolyn Brooks, famous author and first African-American recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, actress Marla Gibbs, the legendary singers, Sam Cooke and Lou Rawls, and Louis Armstrong, the legendary trumpet player and bandleader who performed at many of the area's night clubs. Other noteworthy residents include, author Lorraine Hansberry, aviator Bessie Coleman, Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, Congressman William Dawson, and local publishing magnate, the late John H. Johnson.
The Ida B. Wells complex was one of several housing projects built between 1940 and the early 1960s along a two-mile stretch of State Street in Bronzeville. The projects eventually fell into neglect, concentrating poverty and crime in a relatively small swath. In 2000, the city embarked on a controversial plan to bulldoze and replace the housing with less dense mixed-use units. The new mixed-use housing includes one-third market-rate, one-third affordable housing and one-third public housing.
Following World War II, decades of economic disinvestment and social change, Bronzeville's luster diminished. Businesses shut their doors and African Americans moved further south due to the elimination of restricted housing covenants. This resulted in nearly one-third of Bronzeville's housing stock becoming vacant or abandoned. But by the mid 1990's, signs of revitalization and interest emerged.
There are a wide variety of web sites that show many sides of the history of this once-great community. You are invited to explore for yourself on the internet or take a tour of the area.