Saturday, 21 February 2015


                    BLACK              SOCIAL         HISTORY                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 The Black Chicago Renaissance: An 

In the early 1930s, as the famed Harlem Renaissance of black cultural achievement was winding down, a new surge of African American creativity, activism and scholarship began to flower in the South Side Chicago district then becoming known as “Bronzeville.” This new “Chicago Renaissance” was fueled by two unprecedented social and economic conditions: the “great migration” of Southern blacks to Chicago in search of economic opportunity and perceived security from lynch mob rule and the crisis of the Great Depression that followed.
Over the preceding two decades, Chicago’s black population had soared from 44,000 in 1910, the community grew to more that 230,000 by 1930. For the most part the new migrants were confined to a rigidly segregated zone which extended from 22nd street on the north to 63rd street on the south, and from the Rock Island railroad tracks west of State Street to Cottage Grove Avenue on the east. Richard Wright called its miserable, overcrowded housing the “world of the kitchenettes.”
The migrants went to work in meatpacking plants and steel mills, garment shops and private homes. After 1929, however, many people lost their jobs as the Great Depression hit the African American community hard. Out of this crisis emerged new ideas and institutions, new political activism and a revitalized community spirit. In electoral politics, the black community switched from the Republican Party to the Democrats. A new labor movement, the CIO, sank roots into the South Side, radical social activism flourished. By the early 1930s, the South Side black community began to call itself by a new name: Bronzeville.
The cultural upsurge in Bronzeville in the 1930’s and 1940’s took a course distinct from that of its Harlem predecessor. From 1932 through 1950, Chicago black community witnessed and participated in, startling developments in literature, in music, social science and journalism. In addition to the national impact of its creative achievements, one of the most distinguishing features of the Chicago Renaissance was the extraordinary integration or developments in the humanities and social sciences with each other, and with the heightened political awareness of the period. This extraordinary development was aided by the birth of community-based institutions which fostered the new cultural creativity.  (See BCR Timeline.)
During the 1930’s and 1940’s, the term “Chicago Renaissance” was not used to describe the period and its achievements, In later years, however, as many of its leading figures gained national and international fame, a sharper awareness of the meaning of those years emerged. In 1979, Chicago Renaissance artist Eldzier Cortor recalled that among those whose “burgeoning talents shaped a kind of Thirties/Forties Renaissance in Chicago were the dancers Katherine Dunham and Talley Beatty; writersRichard Wright and Frank YerbyMargaret WalkerWillard Motley and John H. Johnson (publisher of Ebony); sociologist writersSt. Clair Drake and Horace R. Cayton (who later co-authored Black Metropolis); entertainers Nat King Cole, Ray Nance and Oscar Brown, Jr.); photographer Gordon Parks; poet Gwendolyn Brooks, and the artists Elizabeth Catlett and Hughie Lee Smith.