Where did spaces for Chicago’s Black youth go and why have they disappeared? Moreover, what defines these spaces and how have the current Black youth responded to this decline?
These were the guiding questions that fueled the capstone scholars’ research during their three week program. Working closely with members of Honey Pot Performance, guest instructors, librarians, musicians, and archivists, the Capstone scholars unraveled these questions by understanding the long lasting effects of the Great Migration, listening to and learning from different styles and genres of music, and using different methodological approaches, especially archival research.
The majority of the scholars’ research was archival; They visited collections at the Chicago History Museum, the DuSable Museum, and the Carter G. Woodson Regional Library. During these research visits, the scholars’ sifted through a range of primary sources such as photographs, newspaper clippings, programs from events, handwritten letters, posters from concerts and musical performance, legal papers, and more. More importantly, scholars learned that act of archiving is political. Due to institutional racism, Black history is misfiled or completely missing within “traditional” (white) archives. Many scholars are responding to this crisis by creating their own archives and maps (like Honey Pot Performance) and reclaiming Black people’s past by re-archiving primary sources in ways that emphasize both Black history and communities.
At the end of the three weeks, the scholars’ hard work was showcased as they presented their map entries.These entries are in contribution to the Chicago Black Social Culture Map. Each group completed two historical and one present day location. Their entries ranged from The Palm Tavern, a night club located in the Bronzeville neighborhood, to the Elam Home, a place for housing and guidance for the single Black women, to The Rink Fitness Factory, a skating rink located on 87th Street. Throughout their presentations, students answered how and why these spaces became important for the Black communities of Chicago both past and present.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to learn from and think critically with the scholars this summer. Listening to them share their experiences and their spaces and helping them articulate these expressions into map entries was a truly invaluable experience.