Bronzeville is a South Side Chicago neighborhood, located in the Douglas and Grand Boulevard community areas. Many famous Chicago writers, artists, and activists—including Gwendolyn Brooks, Richard Wright, and Ida B. Wells—lived here (and still do).
In the 1920s to the 40s, the neighborhood was a mixed income area whose residents ranged from impoverished to wealthy. Segregation, economic depression, racist, absentee landlords and city government, compounded the severe poverty many residents experienced. (For more about this history, one can read Bronzeville: Black Chicago in Pictures, 1941-1943, investigate the Ida B. Wells housing projects, or read stories in the work of Gwendolyn Brooks and Lorraine Hansberry, for example. As Brooks wrote in “kitchenette building,” “But could a dream send up through onion fumes / Its white and violet, fight with fried potatoes / And yesterday’s garbage ripening in the hall”.)
Bronzeville landmarks visible today include the beautiful Chicago Bee Building (3647-3655 S. State), once the home of entrepreneur Anthony Overton’s Chicago Bee newspaper and a public library today; the former Sunset Café (now Ace Meyers Hardware; 315 35 E. 35th St), where jazz greats like Jimmy Dorsey, Count Basie, and Bix Beiderbecke frequently played; and the Chicago Defender Building (3435 S. Indiana Ave). Originally built as a Jewish synagogue, this building was home to the Chicago Defender offices from 1920-1960. The newspaper published poems by Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks, and helped mobilize Black families all over the country to move North in the Great Migration.
Bronzeville actually boasts two beautiful libraries—the George Cleveland Hall Branch (4801 S. Michigan Ave) has served Bronzeville readers since 1932. Vivian G. Harsh, the branch’s original head librarian and the first Black person to head a Chicago Public Library, invigorated the space with classes, programs, book clubs, and special local guests like Langston Hughes, who lived nearby. The Harsh archive is now housed at Woodson Regional Library, however Hall still owns many images and stories from that rich history. Another important figure here is Charlemae Hill-Rollins, who started the library’s children’s programming in 1932, a terrific legacy that continues today with weekly reading times for toddlers as well as discussion groups for children and youth. Hall welcomes more than 10,000 visitors every month.
Other local spots of note for literary buffs include the DuSable Museum of African-American History (740 E. 56th Pl.), the Ida B. Wells home (a private residence at 3624 S. King Drive), the King Drive Gateway (S. King Drive between 24th and 35th Streets), and the South Side Community Art Center (3831 S. Michigan Ave.). Compasses and more details are available at the Bronzeville Visitor Information Center (3501 S. King Drive).