Up From the South-The Bronzeville Neighborhood Research Project Community Mural

Up From the South, a community mural by The Bronzeville Neighborhood Research Project under the direction of Professor Arlene Crawford

Over the past several months, The Bronzeville Neighborhood Research Project has been working on a community mural that will depict the history of the Bronzeville community from 1850 to the present. Under the leadership of Professor Arlene Crawford, student and community artists met in the spring semester at a series of sketch parties to plan the layout of the mural. During the summer,  students and community artists have been working  with Professor Crawford to bring their sketch layout to life in a wall sized mural that will be installed near the CCICS Conference Center. An opening reception is scheduled for October 2012.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

During the Spring Sketch Party, students and community artists learned about the history of the Bronzeville community and chose people and places that they wanted to draw for the mural. Images in the mural include the Victory Monument, Frederick Douglass, the American Negro Exposition, the Chicago Defender,Jack Johnson and Ida. B. Wells.

Professor Zada Johnson speaks with STP and Introduction to Inner City Studies students about the community mural.

Entering first-year students in the Summer Transition Program as well as students in the Introduction to Inner City Studies course have also worked on the mural during the summer term. The process of organizing, sketching and painting a community mural has been an excellent example of civic engagement.

In the same spirit as the Spring Sketch Party, the Bronzeville Neighborhood Research Project will hold a Summer Painting Party on Thursday, August 16th and Friday August 17th from 6pm to 9pm at the Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies (700 E. Oakwood Blvd) RM 211. Join us as we work together to complete our vision of celebrating Bronzeville history. The mural will also include a family history photo collage–please bring photos of your family members who lived and worked in Bronzeville (photos will be copied and copies will be used for the collage). You don’t have to be a professional artist or know how to draw to be a part of the painting party–if you can hold a paint brush you can contribute to this historic project!

For additional information contact Professor Arlene Crawford (A-Crawford@neiu.edu) or Professor Zada Johnson (z-johnson@neiu.edu).

The Origins of Restrictive Covenants in Bronzeville pt. 2

The practice of private, racially restrictive covenants in Chicago evolved as a reaction to the Great Migration of Southern blacks and in response to the 1917 Court ruling (Buchanan v. Warley) which declared municipally mandated racial zoning unconstitutional. Buchanan v. Warley was brought forth by a white real estate agent after a black civil rights activist, William Warley, refused to pay full price for the property he had purchased. Warley claimed that the ordinance prohibiting blacks from moving into white neighborhoods made the lot less valuable because he could not actually occupy the property as a resident. In its unanimous decision, the Supreme Court found that Louisville’s racial zoning ordinance violated the 14th Amendment’s due protection clause and marked an infringement of contractual freedom because it interfered with private property sales between whites and blacks. While the Buchanan decision marked a victory in the battle against racial segregation, it focused on upholding property rights, not affirming equal protection under the law. Buchanan only applied to legal statues, not private agreements and as a result, racially-restrictive covenants became a common practice (Buchanan v. Warley, 245 U.S. 60 (1917).

The Great Migration from 1910 to 1960 brought hundreds of thousands of blacks from the southern states (Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama, etc.) to Chicago, where we became an urban population. My fore parents created churches, community organizations, important businesses, and great music and literature. African Americans of all classes built community on the South Side of Chicago for decades before the Civil Rights Movements. Their goal was to build a community where blacks could pursue life with the same rights as whites ( Allen H. Spear, Black Chicago: The Making of a Negro Ghetto (1890-1920).

A typical covenant included the following:

“…hereafter no part of said property or any portion thereof shall be…occupied by ay person not of the Caucasian race, it being intended hereby to restrict the use of said property…against occupancy as owners or tenants of any portion of said property for resident or other purposes by people of the Negro or Mongolian race.” (Sabey, Donald L. Sabey. The Restrictive Covenant in the Control of Land Use. 1999).

The practice of using racial covenants became so socially acceptable that in “1937 a leading magazine of nationwide circulation awarded 10 communities a ‘shield of honor’ for an umbrella of restrictions against the ‘wrong kind of people’. (Understanding Fair Housing,” U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Clearinghouse Publication 42, February 1973). The practice was so widespread that by 1940, 80% of property in Chicago and Los Angeles carried restrictive covenants barring black families (Alexander Kamerling, Restrictive Covenants Under Common and Competition Law. 2007).

The Beginnings of Restrictive Covenants in Bronzeville (Nakia Robinson)

“At no time shall said premises or any part thereof or any building erected thereon sold, occupied, let or leased or given to any one of any race other than the Caucasian, except that this covenant shall not prevent occupancy by domestic servants of a different race domicile with an owner or tenant.” (This restriction appeared in a deed of the Crawford Realty Company in the office of the Register of Deeds for Cuyahoga County, Cleveland, Ohio. )

The deed restriction above is typical of thousands which are still part of property records in the United States, including Chicago despite the fact that none can be honored by either federal or a state court. Racially restrictive covenants refer to contractual agreements that prohibit the purchase, lease, or occupation of a piece of property by a particular group of people, usually African Americans, Latinos and Asians. Racially restrictive covenants were not only mutual agreements between property owners in a neighborhood not to sell to certain people, but were also agreements enforced through the cooperation of real estate boards and neighborhood associations.These restrictive covenants became common after 1926 after the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Corrigan v. Buckley, which validated their use (W. Arnold Jolly, Restrictive Covenants Affecting Land, 2010).

Owners who violated the terms of the covenant risk forfeiting the property. Most covenants “ran with the land” and were legally enforceable on future buyers of the property. In 1948, in four cases where neighbors sought to enjoin sale to and occupancy by non-Caucasians, the Supreme Court ruled that such covenants are not enforceable, and in 1953 the Supreme Court emphasized this ruling by holding that money damages could not be collected from a seller who violated a covenant. (C.H.S. Preston, Restrictive Covenants Affecting Freehold Land, 1976).

Despite the fact that DuSable, a black man, founded the city in the 1780s and fugitive slaves and freedmen established the city’s first black community in the 1840s racial segregation through the use of restrictive covenants well existed in Chicago (Encyclopedia of Chicago). From 1916 (the first wave of the Black migration from southern States) until 1948 (the second wave), racially restrictive covenants were used to keep Chicago’s neighborhoods white.

Stele for Malachi

Malachi Thompson was an incredible musician, composer and institution builder.  He was a resident of Bronzeville before his passing.  The following is a tribute to his genius, my review of one of my favorite CDs of his music and his mission.  A Stele in the Kemetic tradition is a signpost, it is also frequently used as head stone on a grave.

Stela for Malachi – A meditation on “Lift Every Voice and Sing”

 “Adoration of Ra when riseth he in horizon eastern of heaven.”

A Bronzeville inhabitant in soul and spirit … “…bring the music back to the Southside; build institutions …teach ….reach ….plan and provide”: these were credos he would pursue.  Focused, talented empowered of will, the brother man could blow Joshua with zeal.  Heart of a Lion, his sign was LEO.  Prideful with promise, his music for a new millennium; sound the horn’s Africa Brass, insinuate yourself to the future, ye ancient wisdom.

Elephantine Island – Lest we forget, a World View composition. Our history runs strong in him and his music. Clever, intelligent arrangements which Free Bop NTU time, these were his gifts to us.

  “Receiveth thee Manu with content, embraceth thee Maat at the double season.”  

Old Man River – The drums introduce the flowing rhythm of it’s melody, our roots it sings of.   A call to unity as musicians perform in harmony, construct around the beat; our pace, our power, our gene sense that  Moves… Dances…Celebrates…Blackness…Africa…SouL!

Carter Jefferson’s solo melodically counterpoints and beats the intention to the Free Bop… still and ALLWAYS.  Malachi on Conch Shell plays rather well, as he transfixes our ears to the signals of our roots.  Smooth as it runs, this Ole man River. David Spenser, Kenny Anderson, Bob Griffin, Elmer Brown, Edwin Williams, Bill McFarland, Ray Ripperton, Steve Berry are the chores of Brass in the play…all keyed in ntu, all noble, able, adept peers, on the river bank waving us in, to take the journey and met ourselves.

 Sound never dissipates, it only re-creates … Hallelujah!

 Tales of Ancient Kemet – Avreeayl Ra, Richard Lawrence, Enoch and Harrison capture our hearts with the intro.  Kirk’s sense of measure is profound.  Freedom prevails in this Bop. Tales of beauty fly off Kirks fingertips, soulful, provocative, and smooth in the telling … TALES of Ancient Kemet. 

 “May he give splendor and power together with triumph  a  coming forth as a soul living to see Horus of the double horizon, to the Ka of Osiris, the Scribe Ani, triumphant before Osiris.”

 Transitions – Malachi is honoring his spiritual mentor, John Coltrane the massager of the creator, Yahweh.

 Lift Every Voice and Sing – The glory and heartfelt poignancy of Malachi’s arrangement can provoke tears of joy. His creative energy coalesces with musicians who are righteous, hearty, compelling warriors of our nation; historically tied to the music themselves.  This music with it’s power, it’s core point

Lift Every Voice and Sing … and  A.T.Crawford, Dee Dee McCall, Patsy Mullins, Valerie Mullins, Theo Reed, James Spinks, Louise Thompson (his mom) & Rita Warford, herald that point.

 Nubian Call – Was inspired, as he traveled on theNile.  The physics of sound was his plaything; a doctor of IDMR was he.  He researched and provoked this composition of science, sound, harmony and vibration to awaken our hearts and set us wondering on source – NTU now!  Manifest meaning was the result.

  The Trick of the Trip – A poem on the Now… Free Bop NOW! Can u dig it?  Malachi’s sense of humor and tenacity are legendary, it’s what makes him leader,  seeking rank with his heroes, Buddy Bolden, Satchmo, Miles, and Hubbard.

 And then he rocks us ntu Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.

 “May be made for me a seat in the boat on the day of the going forth of the god; may I be received into the presence of Osiris in the land of triumph, to the Ka of Osiris Ani. “

Invisibility and Illumination (Natasha Overton)

Time to Unite (41st and Drexel). Photo Courtesy of Natasha Overton

Now that February has ended and Black History Month has officially come to a close do we now relinquish our visibility as a people?  Do we now go back to subjecting ourselves to the darkness mainstream media cast upon our perception of self, or do we continue to walk in the light? I like the way that  Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man loves light, desires light, needs light. Light confirms my reality and gives birth to my form (Invisible Man, pp. 6). Yet unlike the invisible man we do not have to tragically accept our invisibility. We do not have to surround ourselves with artificial light in our “warm holes” for comfort. We can take it upon ourselves to define and project our own image so bright that it cannot be denied.

When I look at the murals of Bronzeville I see a community of artist whose work illuminates those who were made invisible. Each work is an attempt to proudly exhibit that Black humanity does exist and it is worth seeing.  Each mural contributes to the effort of reclaiming and reconstructing the Black aesthetic in America. Each mural creates a new aesthetic that is no longer fodder for the oppressive dominant culture but now works in the interest of Black people.  I’m always struck by the luscious use of color and allegory in these murals that weaves together the collective Black experience in America.

NEIU Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies Mural. Photo Courtesy of Natasha Overton

The murals of Bronzeville are not only a representation of a collective experience but also of a collective effort.  Time to Unite (41st & Drexel) and the mural on the walls of the Carruther’s Center for Inner City (CCICS on Oakwood & Cottage Grove) are examples of this collective effort. Although there are specific artist credited for these works of art, the community came together to make these murals possible.  In fact on the mural of CCICS if you look closely you will see the face of a Bronzeville native, our very own Dr. Zada Johnson.  The murals of Bronzeville illuminate the faces, soul, and experience of the people who inspire it.


Now a little Art History

Historically, the art of Africa has won its own place among the great art traditions of the world.  The content of African sculpture has been studied and applied to the origins of many European and Western art movements.  It’s influence on Expressionism, Cubism, and Modern art has brought to light the scope of Africa’s artistic genius.  The nature of African art is directly related to religious concepts of the continent.  The Bantu philosophy is at the base of numerous tribal beliefs.  At the center of this philosophy stands the conception of a “vital force”, a universal omnipotent energy, around which all thought and action revolve.  An imperative arises; life is to be lived vigorously, for active force is existence and existence is force. “Growth of life” (Leuzinger), means that existence can become either stronger or weaker.  This idea definitely suggests a continuum of existence within Bantu beliefs.   To further expand the Bantu believed that there are ‘Influences upon life’ or rather one force can exert an effect upon another and ‘gradation of life’ or forces are graded hierarchically, the higher one exerting an influence upon the lower (Leuzinger).  The Bantu religious consciousness is also grounded in metaphysical beliefs and the influence upon life concepts would explain the need for ritual acts to strengthen forces and restore order to life once it has been disrupted.  To the African, art serves to make the invisible visible.  Their approach has been noted for its emotional vigor and clarity of form.  What inspires the artist is a vision which cannot be expressed purely in naturalistic forms, he co-ordinates both naturalistic and abstract and expressionistic elements into a new unity.  The style is by no means primitive, rather, the development of a mature expression.  The technical skill is the product of centuries of development, early pieces of art from the Nok culture, in the south Sahara of Africa, are dated from 400 BCE to ADE 200. (Bascom)

The two major categories are ritualistic art and craft art, however the category of carft or ‘applied art’ in African thought is not to be distinguished from the original stalk (A.Locke).  In Africa things can be beautiful and objects of utility at the same time.  The traditional art has never been divorced from the vital context of everyday life; it embodies and vindicates one of the soundest and most basic of aesthetic principles, beauty in use (A.Locke).  This clearly points to the functional aspect of the art.

The African artist, though a great craftsman and technician is forgetful of self and fully projects himself into the function and tradition of the article he is working on (Locke), exerting a higher force upon a lower.  It is by age-long tradition anonymous, reflecting a collective aspect to the work which is generated. The African artist is concentrating upon unrestrained variety and directness of three-dimensional effects, this goes directly to the heart of his task and thus he realizes the distinctive potentialities of sculpture.  He produces work comparable in its spiritual severity.  “One comes to regard their sculpture not as a distorted copy of natural form, but as a purposeful creation of mass design, with free distortion of nature shaped into highly stylized form expressing abstract design (Locke).  There is a emphasis on the essential, consistent three-dimensional organization of structural planes in sequence, truth to material and achieved tension between idea or emotion; expressed through representational and abstract principles (Locke). In short creation in African art is not imitation of nature but free creative improvising on themes taken from nature to convey forcefully a selected mood or and intended idea, all of which is committed from inception to end, to the African metaphysical outlook of life.

This overview of the historical aspects of Black art can reaffirm the Cultural Nationalism that is naturally African, that the Black artist of today would achieve.  The conventions of modern art may have been redefined through the times of change, yet the intention of communicating with an art that is functional, collective and committed remains basic to the African-American artist.

Towards Black Cultural Nationalism.

I thought I’d share some ideas I have about cultural nationalism; these ideas were formulated during my college years and shaped by those who took time to teach me and influence my growth as a scholar and artist.

The Black artist who is committed to himself/herself as a Black person of a Black nation, has a specific purpose – that of creating an art which is functional, collective and committed; using forms and images which will define, identify and direct.   The Black artist is creating art not for their self nor the sake of art, rather (s)he is and must create for the liberation of minds of all Black people – the students, parents, workers, leaders and the community.  This art will address positiveness and reflect values that will strengthen a people and commit them to themselves as a nation. 


Meditation on Race n Women

The images the black artist projects are concerned with their African heritage as much as with our contemporary reality and they should be relevant to each era in which they exist.  “The existence of strong links between art and culture are undeniable; for art derives it’s purpose and content from culture.” (Leuzinger)  The African culture from which Black people spring, as well as the experiences of enslavement, freedom, reconstruction, civil rights, the Black power movement and the election of the first Black President of the United States, all have had a profound effect on the art and conscious of the Black nation. The artist will view these historical, political and social circumstances of a culture and using their particular perspective interpret all in their work. The artist’s roles, in relation to theirculture are to record, preserve and create expressions of positive consciousness.  The artist is part of the community and working towards a cultural nationalism in the continuum of the Pan-African aspect.  The communication of this consciousness is the goal of the Black artist as it is the goal of Pan-African people to survive. 

Introducing Student Researcher Calvin Tukes Jr.

Author Ralph Ellison and his iconic work, Invisible Man

My name is Calvin ”Cjay” Tukes Jr. I am a sophomore, majoring in history, with a philosophy minor at Northeastern Illinois University. I have a geat interest in history, I do truly believe in the six-degree theory and I feel history is the key to a better future. The things we learn, we usually learn them through trial and error. If there is no historical recorded, it makes it very hard to push forward and better a situation. The Bronzeville area is a prime example of the trials and errors of  history and I plan on exploring this as part of the Bronzeville Neighborhood Research Project.

My research for this project will explore Ralph Ellison and his contribution to the Great Migration. I am interested in how his writings such as the Invisible Man helped mold and change peoples thought. I am also interested in the way his work deals with  themes of black identity. My research will also look at  the pre-Invisible Man stages of Ellison’s life, like his conflict with the communist party and his feelings of betrayal by this party. As a member of the Bronzeville Neighborhood Research Project, I plan to help promote the rich art, music, writing, activism, diversity, beauty, love and passion of the Bronzeville community.

Introducing Student Researcher Natasha Overton–What Draws me to the Bronzeville Neighborhood History Project

Artist Preston Jackson working on his sculpture entitled "Cakewalkers"

When boarding the 69th Street Red Line stop I’m always greeted by the stately figure of a thirty-something black woman cast in bronze, gently braiding the hair of her adolescent daughter. As a black woman I’m immediately transported back to Sunday afternoons, when I would sit between my mother’s lap as she would comb, part, and twist my hair to be presentable for school the next day. The bronze sculptures, molded by Chicago artist Preston Jackson speaks to me and evokes deep and familial feelings. The stories of African-American life that artists such as Jackson depicts is what I’m most interested in uncovering. Art and artist have always played an integral role in African-American life and especially in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood. Excavating these stories is vital to fully tell the story of Chicago and the people that has shaped this city. The Bronzeville Neighborhood History Project seeks to do just that and this is why I’m proud to be a part of this project.

Being a full-time Inner City Studies and Art History major I feel as if this project is the perfect platform to be able to share with the community as a whole what I am learning. I’m originally from Toledo, Ohio, I came to Chicago about 3 years ago in search of fame and fortune through culinary greatness but that was not to be. There was another plan for me and it has been filled with enriching cultural experiences, self- revelation, and loving and beautiful people. With that being said, my Bronzeville experience comes vicariously through all those willing to share their memories with me. Through this project I hope to develop a story of Bronzeville that is personally my own, that I may one day share with an eager young researcher.

Introducing Student Researcher Anithra Billups

Author Gwendolyn Brooks' Bronzeville Boys and Girls

My name is  Anithra and I am a 22- year -old African American young lady who lives on the South side of Chicago. I am currently studying Inner City Studies and Mathematics at Northeastern Illinois University.  My plan is to become a math professor or teacher. I love math, reading, music, going to the movies, and hanging out with friends and family. I work at Chicago Housing Authority in Resident Service: Special Programs as a Student Intern.

This semester, I am taking an independent study course: Bronzeville Neighborhood Research Project. This course is giving me the opportunity to explore and research the community in which I live. It is very disappointing when you do not know what is in your own backyard; Therefore, I want to do my research on two important topics 1) My Family History and 2) The historic Abraham Lincoln Center, which is now The Jacob Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies (CCICS).

I am interested in researching my family history  because my entire family is from the Bronzeville community on both my Mom’s side and my Dad’s side. I believe that it is important to know where you come from. My family has so much history here and I want to know it all. I figure in a sense my family history will be a perfect segue to Bronzeville history.The original Abraham Lincoln Center at 700 E. Oakwood Blvd. was established in  1903 and its still around today as the Carruthers Center. In my research I plan to explore the significance of the building to the Bronzeville community as well as the famous people who lived, worked and spoke there.