Bronzeville

By the 1930s the Bronzeville neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side was home to a quarter of a million African American migrants, mostly from the rural South. Nearby white residents fled to other parts of the city and the suburbs, leading to a “Black Belt” segregated from white Chicagoans. Despite many challenges, a network of black-owned institutions including businesses, music clubs, social groups, and churches anchored the community.

Mecca Flats

Constructed in 1893 to house middle-class white families, the large South Side apartment building Mecca Flats featured a grand central atrium and ornate railings and fixtures. By 1919 only black renters lived there. Like others in Bronzeville, Mecca Flats residents suffered from landlord neglect, overcrowding, and building code violations.

Rendering of Mecca Flats atrium, 1893

Rendering of Mecca Flats atrium, 1893

Courtesy of Tim Samuelson

Children in a Mecca Flats hallway, 1949

Children in a Mecca Flats hallway, 1949

Courtesy of Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, gift of Bernarda Bryson Shahn, photographed by Ben Shahn

Railing from Mecca Flats atrium, 1893

Railing from Mecca Flats atrium, 1893

Gift of Tim Samuelson

Gospel Music in Bronzeville

Blues artist Thomas A. Dorsey migrated from Georgia in the early 1900s. A leading figure in the emerging gospel music genre, he directed the choir in Chicago’s South Side Pilgrim Baptist Church for sixty years. The church occupied a former synagogue, continuing to display its Star of David.

 

Thomas A. Dorsey as blues singer Georgia Tom, late 1920s

Thomas A. Dorsey as blues singer Georgia Tom, late 1920s

Courtesy of Tim Samuelson

Reproduction of gospel sheet music, 1952

Reproduction of gospel sheet music, 1952

Courtesy of Tim Samuelson

Gospel record, 1932

Gospel record, 1932

Courtesy of Tim Samuelson

Pilgrim Baptist Church, 1941

Pilgrim Baptist Church, 1941

Courtesy of Library of Congress

Star of David architectural element, 1892

Star of David architectural element, 1892

Loan from Tim Samuelson

Developing Bronzeville

Joe Jordan was a successful Chicago ragtime artist and band leader at Bronzeville’s Pekin Theater, billed as the nation’s first African American-owned and managed entertainment center. In 1916 Jordan invested in a large mixed-use building in the heart of Bronzeville. The Jordan Building was one of few African American-owned buildings there.

Jordan Building, 1984

Jordan Building, 1984

Courtesy of Tim Samuelson

Joe Jordan on a music club match book, 1912

Joe Jordan on a music club match book, 1912

Courtesy of Tim Samuelson

Reproduction of sheet music for Joe Jordan’s Pekin Rag Intermezzo, 1904

Reproduction of sheet music for Joe Jordan’s Pekin Rag Intermezzo, 1904

Courtesy of Tim Samuelson