POTENTIAL WIN: Proposal to Designate Bronzeville a National Heritage Area

“When Bernard Loyd first ducked into the Checkerboard Lounge in 1995, he didn’t realize he was stepping in the shadows of musical giants.

“Loyd, a perennially traveling consultant in his early 30s, was new to the neighborhood and just wanted to enjoy a Heineken while chatting about the weather and Chicago Bulls. He picked the Checkerboard — despite the cigarette smoke that lingered in his hair and clothes — mostly because by that time, much of the retail corridors of Bronzeville already had been gutted, leaving scant other options.

“The hole-in-the-wall charm of the nightclub’s mismatched chairs, no-airs crowd and commanding live vocalists made it easy to go back. So did the stories Loyd later heard of those who had graced its stage, such as Muddy Waters, the Rolling Stones, Junior Wells, B.B. King and more.

“Today, a square of bumpy grass sits in the former footprint of the Checkerboard Lounge, some of it growing wild and starting to creep into sidewalk cracks on 43rd Street. A sign on the empty lot, detailing plans for five rowhouses to take over that space, bills the upcoming development as ‘extraordinary.’

“‘It’s gone,’ Loyd said about his old haunt, which moved to Hyde Park nearly two decades ago. ‘There’s no trace of it.’

“Loyd, now the project leader of a community revitalization campaign called Build Bronzeville, said he doesn’t want other historic anchors of his neighborhood to disappear. He and other community leaders support federal legislation introduced last month in Congress by Democratic U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush of Chicago in the House, and Illinois U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth in the Senate.

“The proposal would designate the neighborhood as a National Heritage Area and pump $10 million into preserving its remaining buildings and traditions. Such areas are maintained by community organizations with assistance from the National Park Service, whose website says the program “tells nationally important stories” about heritage, although they aren’t national parks.

“In Illinois, only two such heritage areas exist: the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area, and the Illinois and Michigan Canal. Proponents of the bill say it’s long overdue that Bronzeville, also known as the Black Metropolis for its outsize footprint on Black culture, is noted for being just as influential on America’s historical landscape. They contend it’s not enough as the neighborhood tries to leave behind the recent decades’ trials with population loss and disinvestment, but they believe the funding and acknowledgment could jump-start a new era of revitalization.

“The Bronzeville-Black Metropolis National Heritage Area Act has been introduced before, but with Democrats now controlling both chambers of Congress and the White House this year, Rush said he believes 2021 is the year the legislation will see movement.

“‘It is important for us to maintain and protect and promote the historical legacy of Bronzeville so that future generations, African Americans and otherwise, but African American particularly, can understand and appreciate the tremendous sacrifice that was made to make Bronzeville an important aspect of American history,’ Rush said in a recent phone interview. (Yun, Chicago Tribune, 3/24/21)

Read the full story at the Chicago Tribune

Bronzeville, a hub of Black culture in Chicago, would become one of three National Heritage Areas in Illinois under plan in Congress, Alice Yun, Chicago Tribune, 3/24/21

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