National heritage area, migration centennial discussed in Bronzeville
August 7, 2010

By Ivette Sandoval

The Bronzeville International Summit II: Urban Innovation, held earlier this year at the U.S. Cellular Field Conference Center, brought local leaders together to discuss their community’s strengths and the 20-year campaign to preserve Bronzeville as a National Heritage area.

The summit’s focus, said Paula Robinson, president of the Black Metropolis National Heritage Area Commission, was “to share plans, seek feedback, identify priorities, and engage in leadership on what is needed to materialize our goals and create strong collaborations among key stakeholders.”

Besides talks and panel discussions highlighting Bronzeville’s accomplishments over the years, the event provided background on the Black Metropolis National Heritage Area Study Bill, drafted by Congressman Bobby Rush (D-1st). The bill was not passed the first time Rush introduced it, so he re-introduced it recently, using a bipartisan approach. Because it is considered a “study” bill requiring research, tax increment financing money could be used to help support that research.

Rush wants to use the Black Metropolis Heritage effort aggressively to increase tourism and spur economic development.

“It is up to the government to make an effort to bring tourism back in the U.S.,” said the Rev. Stanley Watkins, Rush’s chief of staff. He sees it as a worthwhile effort “to get folks to see the ‘Black Metropolis’ and come to Chicago.” Robinson said that, during the effort to bring the Olympics to Chicago, Bronzeville leaders began brainstorming about a “Cultural Olympiad” for the Olympic opening, showcasing the area’s culture and history. “We had a keen sense that Bronzeville was going to be the host neighborhood for the Olympics, so we wanted to present what we were doing long term,” she said, noting that, although the Olympic effort is over, the effort to showcase Bronzeville’s culture continues.

Also during the summit, officials announced a resolution by State Senator Mattie Hunter (D-3rd) creating an Illinois Great Migration Centennial Commission; that group will report to the General Assembly and the governor on progress to commemorate the period from 1916 through 1970, which saw massive numbers of African-Americans from the largely agricultural South move to the urban North. That shift attracted more than 500,000 African-Americans to Chicago and transformed this city and many other northern cities.

“The centennial is something that will tell the world to come to Chicago in 2016, because we’re going to be doing a yearlong celebration and we’re going to develop legacy projects—not just temporary projects,” explained Robinson. She added that the celebration will improve Chicago’s standing as an international tourism destination.

The Bronzeville Community Development Partnership (BCDP) launched the Great Migration Centennial 1916-2016 project and a new campaign to promote Bronzeville, “Creating the New Promise,” on June 2. The campaign aims to make Bronzeville the premiere international African-American heritage tourism destination.

Over the next six years, it will help encourage the community to restore its historic assets, revitalize its entertainment venues, and create new strategies to employ more residents.

The summit and press conference were hosted by the BCDP and the Black Metropolis Heritage Area. For more information, visit www.BlackMetropolisNHA.com or call (773) 785-3826.

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