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.
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.
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.
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.