Congress creates Bronzeville-Black Metropolis National Heritage Area on Chicago’s South Side

The designation will help preserve over 200 historical assets in Bronzeville and bring up to $1 million annually to the area over a 10- to 15-year span.

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The Ida B. Wells monument by Richard Hunt was unveiled in June 2021 at East 37th Street and South Langley Avenue in Bronzeville.

Ashlee Rezin /Sun-Times

WASHINGTON — Preserving and revitalizing Chicago’s historic Bronzeville community — also known as the “Black Metropolis” — got a big boost Thursday when Congress sent President Joe Biden a bill to sign establishing it as a National Heritage Area.

Creation of the Bronzeville-Black Metropolis National Heritage Area was included in the National Heritage Area Act that the House passed Thursday on a 326-95 roll call. The Senate unanimously approved the bill Tuesday.

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s feasibility study making the case for the heritage area said that in Chicago, the “Black Metropolis is a historic site of African American achievement in arts and culture, business and entrepreneurship, politics, sports, and recreation. ... The assemblage of natural, historic, educational and recreational resources forms a cohesive, nationally distinctive landscape that is worth preserving. The area also serves as memorial to the Great Migration of 1910-20, a demographic movement in which approximately 500,000 African Americans migrated north in search of employment and improved life opportunities.”

Paula Robinson, president of the Black Metropolis National Heritage Commission, which will oversee the National Heritage Area, told the Sun-Times, “For us, the congressional designation basically allows us to tell the story of this whole cultural landscape.”

Robinson, who has been deeply involved in Bronzeville issues for years, said the designation means “up to $1 million a year over a 10- to 15-year period.”

Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., has been working on Bronzeville issues for decades — since his days as an alderperson on Chicago’s City Council — and this legislation is one of the caps to his congressional career, which wraps up in January.

“I am excited by the passage of the Bronzeville-Black Metropolis National Heritage Area Act, which will create a National Heritage Area in Chicago stretching from 18th Street down to 71st Street,” Rush said in a statement.

According to the legislation, the area’s boundaries would run from Lake Michigan on the east to: Wentworth Avenue between 18th Street and 22nd Street; the Dan Ryan Expressway between 22nd Street and 35th Street; and Stewart Avenue between 35th Street and 47th Street.

Farther south, the area will be bordered by 47th Street, 55th Street, Cottage Grove Avenue and the Dan Ryan and run from 55th Street to 67th between State Street and Cottage Grove; with the southern boundary from 67th Street to 71st Street between Cottage Grove and the Metra tracks on the east.

“This site would help preserve over 200 historical assets in Chicago’s Bronzeville-Black Metropolis neighborhood to bring life to the well-documented influence this Black community had on the City of Chicago and our nation,” Rush said.

“As a Bronzeville resident myself, I see its beauty and majesty on a regular basis, and its need for landmark recognition cannot be overstated. This neighborhood is the birthplace for much of the African American community’s ingenuity, poetry, artistry and contributions to Chicago and the nation.”

Robinson said Bronzeville activists have been working since 2004 to win the heritage designation, with the fourth push finally successful. Rush, Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., and Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth also pushed for its approval.

At present, there are 55 National Heritage Areas; the Bronzeville site would be the third in Illinois, along with the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area and the Illinois & Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor.

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