TwHP Lessons

Chicago's Black Metropolis:
Understanding History Through a Historic Place

[Cover photo] Overton Hygenic Building
(The Negro in Chicago, 1779-1929, Washington Intercollegiate Club of Chicago, Inc., 1929.)

Imagine an early spring day in the city of Chicago--cold and rainy, windy with overcast skies. Activity fills the streets as people come and go, school buses fill up and pull away, trucks and cars line up behind traffic lights and then move on. Ringing rhythms of hammers and the screeching of power saws dominate the sounds of the city. Some workmen repair, restore, and build anew, while others demolish old structures and haul away the debris. Large housing projects and institutions take up much of the land in this area of the South Side of Chicago. But between them there is a gap where old buildings survive, all that remains of an area that was called Black Metropolis.

There is a Victory Monument here, celebrating African American contributions to the Allied victory in World War I. Other nearby structures, such as a newspaper building, an office and manufacturing building, and a YMCA, also testify to the presence of thousands of African Americans who came to Chicago's South Side in the early 20th century to fashion a better life for themselves and their families. The search for the history in these places leads to questions about the essence of history itself: What happened here? Why did the place change? What has transformed the site into a historically important place? How am I connected to this place?


About This Lesson

Getting Started: Inquiry Question

Setting the Stage: Historical Context

Locating the Site: Maps
 1. Major railroads, 1900
 2. Black Metropolis, 1920s
 3. Historic places in the Black Metropolis today

Determining the Facts: Readings
 1. The Significance of Black Metropolis

Visual Evidence: Images
 1. The Engine of Progress
 2. State Street, 1925
 3. Monarch Tailors ad, 1929
 4. Overton Hygenic Building
 5. Chicago Bee Building

Putting It All Together: Activities
 1. The Time Perspective
 2. Creating a Historic Place
 3. Nominating a Local Historic Place

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This lesson is based on the Black Metropolis, a thematic nomination comprised of eight individual buildings and one public monument. Black Metropolis is one of the thousands of properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places.




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