Located on the south side of Chicago, Bronzeville became an established neighborhood around the turn of the twentieth century. Prior to its more official naming, the media referred to the Bronzeville neighborhood and adjacent areas using derisive names such as the “Black Belt,” “Black Ghetto,” and even more appalling names such as “Darkie Town.” This poor representation on the part of the media coincided with a relatively recent surge in the population of Black Americans in Chicago as a result of the Great Migration from the southern regions of the United States. The Great Migration began in 1916, and by 1920, the number of Black residents in Chicago had surpassed 100,000. To redirect the community’s nominal identity, James J. Gentry, an editor for Anthony Overton, proposed the term “Bronzeville” as a less derisive name for the small but impactful neighborhood. Thus, the name “Bronzeville” not only represents the community’s residents but represents resistance and the efforts of a community to define itself on its own terms.
One historical event that reminds us of the hardships endured by Black Chicagoans is the 1919 Red Summer. While often referred to as a series of race riots, the 1919 Red Summer is more accurately described as a series of massacres that occurred across the country. In Chicago, the violence began when Eugene Williams, a seventeen-year-old Black youth, drowned at the beach after a white man stoned him for crossing the invisible “race line.” The lack of effective police response, coupled with the already growing tensions from the influx of Black residents into the city (this increased competition for both housing and jobs) caused the Black beachgoers to protest against the inaction of law enforcement. As more police arrived at the beach, tensions worsened to the point that one Black man fired a gun towards the police; he was instantly shot down.
Upon hearing about the incidents at the beach, a group of young, white men assembled firearms, sticks, and stones and traveled towards Bronzeville and the surrounding Black neighborhoods. Not only did these men fire shots at random Black houses and businesses, but they also assaulted any Black person unlucky enough to be in the vicinity. By the time the violence subsided in Chicago--almost two weeks after the start of the massacres--1,000 Black homes had been burned to the ground. Despite the hardships that resulted from such violence, Bronzeville continued to bloom as a cultural powerhouse.