Chicago - Coming Home

By El'Zabar, Kai | American Visions, April-May 1998 | Go to article overview

Chicago - Coming Home


El'Zabar, Kai, American Visions


From Chicago's founding, the city's intense flavor has been profoundly enriched by African-American spices. Some years before Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, the Afro-French explorer, trader and future employee of the U.S. government Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable built a trading post-home here, effectively founding a settlement that became America's industrial powerhouse. From that day forward, the city's history and that of African Americans have been intimately intertwined. Never has this been more true than in the 20th century. Chicago has been home to the Chicago Defender, one of the nation's leading African-American newspapers and a principal advocate of the Great Migration, which transformed America's urban scene. It was home to Oscar Stanton DePriest, America's first black congressman from north of the Mason-Dixon Line; home to the Chicago blues, which transformed a rural art form of narrow sway into an urban, national phenomenon; home to the Nation of Islam, which transformed America's religious landscape; home to Michael Jordan, whose protean talent made the NBA a household abbreviation; and home to Oprah Winfrey, who transformed another arena of mass culture

Much of this history can still be traced in the city, from the Chicago Defender building and DePriest's home, through the monument to the all-black 8th Illinois Infantry to the clubs that once jumped with the sounds of Louis Armstrong, Earl "Fatha" Hines, Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf. But more than the black past lures visitors here; so does the black present, from Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Studios, through wonderful art galleries to the headquarters of some of our largest fraternities and sororities, to say nothing of some to-die-for restaurants, such as the legendary Gladys', whose candied yams, collards and salmon croquettes have attracted everyone from Sammy Davis, Jr. to Mayor Harold Washington for the past half-century. (Just don't get us started on Chicago barbecue!) Mainstream Chicago also entices: from the Chicago Symphony through the impressionist masterpieces at the Art Institute of Chicago, from fabulous shopping through a host of ethnic neighborhoods that testify to the melange that is America.

From daytime to night life--jazz, blues, hip-hop, poetry slams, contemporary drama, and beyond--Chicago gives you countless reasons to savor its flavor and more and more to discover. And since the reasons are countless, you'd be best advised to call the Chicago Office of Tourism, (312) 744-2400, or the Chicago Convention and Visitors Bureau, (312) 567-8500, to get an update on what's happenin'. And if that's not enough, you know you can find out more by calling (800) 2CONNECT or by visiting our web site at www.enjoyillinois.com. In the meantime, you may want to be guided by the sampling below. Whatever your choices, you're taking no chances when you come to Chicago.

Historical Sites

Robert S. Abbott House, 4742 S. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive

The Georgia-born Abbott founded the Chicago Defender in 1905 with 25 cents. By 1917, it was the largest-selling black newspaper in America, with two-thirds of its circulation outside of Chicago. Abbott's Bronzeville area home--designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976--is now a rooming house.

Black Metropolis Trail

The National Park Service has placed the Black Metropolis Trail on the National Register of Historical Places. The trail runs along or near South State Street, the hub of a pre-World War II black community known for its business activities, political activism and cultural production. Today, the efforts of the Black Metropolis Convention & Tourism Bureau keep the revitalization of the area top of mind. (773) 548-2579.

Chess Records Building, 2120 S. Michigan Ave.

The late blues legend Willie Dixon founded the Blues Heaven Foundation to help blues artists collect royalties and to promote blues education in the schools. …

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