BRONZEVILLE — U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk has introduced legislation that would designate Bronzeville a national heritage area and budget $10 million for preservation projects in the neighborhood.
Preservationists are now one step closer to realizing a decadelong effort to get the neighborhood’s role in the Great Migration recognized by the National Park Service as an important part of history that deserves protection.
“Providing national recognition to the rich historical and cultural influence of this area will generate economic development and encourage tourists from around the world to visit and be proud of the contributions the African-American community has made to Chicagoland, our state and our nation,” said Kirk (R-Ill.).
Sam Cholke talks about preservation efforts in Bronzeville.
The Bronzeville area, if the designation is approved, would extend from 18th Street on the north to 71st Street on the south and from the Dan Ryan Expy. to Lake Michigan. The heritage area would exclude the Kenwood, Hyde Park neighborhoods east of Cottage Grove Avenue and portions of Grand Crossing and South Shore east of the Metra tracks.
It would include much of what was once the only place in Chicago where African-Americans migrating from the South at the start of the 20th century could live because restrictive covenants barred property owners from renting or selling to African-Americans.
The bill has received bipartisan support, with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) signing on as a co-sponsor and U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) supporting the bill in the House.
“I live in the heart of the Bronzeville community and have for over 20 years,” Rush said. “I see its beauty, majesty and its need for landmark recognition, as it is the birthplace for much of the African-American communities’ ingenuity, poetry, artistry and contributions to the City of Chicago.”
If passed, the heritage area designation would provide up to $1 million each year from the federal government to match funds raised by the state and city for preservation projects in the neighborhood.
The Black Metropolis National Heritage Area Commission will help coordinate locally which projects are funded.
“I thank Sen. Kirk for leading this congressional effort to solidify the legacy of the African-American community in our state at a pivotal moment in history,” said Paula Robinson, president of the commission. “By establishing the national heritage area, tourists from our state and across the world will be able to explore and learn more about our community’s rich cultural and historical significance.”
The neighborhood is considered to have at least 200 sites of historical importance, including the first armory built for an African-American regiment, the Camp Douglas site from the Civil War, and other places and events marking important contributions to business, arts and culture, like the Chicago Defender newspaper office and the Bud Billiken Parade.
The commission will be charged with developing a plan for how to incorporate these various sites into the heritage area, which will then be approved by the U.S. Interior Department.
The area will not be a national park, but the National Park Service will help with planning and logistics and provide financial assistance.
The bill currently is being considered by the Senate’s Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
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