Determining the Facts
Reading: The Significance of Black Metropolis
Instructions for educators:
The next page is a portion of the form the Commission on Chicago Landmarks used to nominate the six structures shown on Map 3 for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. The National Register is the nation's official list of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects that are deemed worthy of preservation. To be listed, a site must be identified as significant to understanding the historical and cultural foundations of the nation. Both the National Register list itself and the nomination forms are excellent sources of information for individuals seeking the history of a community.
Divide the class into nine groups and have each group read the first paragraph and answer the corresponding questions. Next assign each group one to two paragraphs from numbers 2 through 10 and have them answer the appropriate questions for the paragraph(s) they have read. Ask students to come up with an identifying title for their paragraph(s). Then have all students read paragraphs 11 and 12 and answer those questions as well. Finally, have the whole class discuss how each individual paragraph contributes to an overall understanding of the place and its importance. Ask them to consider how this example could be used as a model for investigating other places and deciding whether those places are historic.
1. What does the introduction suggest as the major theme represented by the nominated buildings and monument?
2. What is meant by a "city-within-a-city"?
3. Describe some "restrictions, exploitations, and indifference" that blacks might have experienced in other parts of the city in the early 20th century.
4. What does it mean that Black Metropolis was built "from the ground up" by its own enterprise and capital?
1. Create a time line using the dates mentioned in this paragraph. Relate these dates to the founding of Chicago in 1833 and to the Civil War.
2. What did the publication of The Colored Men's Professional and Business Directory indicate about the development of the black community?
Paragraphs 3 and 4
1. What are some reasons why a particular community might become a "city-within-a-city"?
2. Look up the definition of "entrepreneur." In what respects was Jesse Binga an entrepreneur?
3. Suggest some things that might have been "impediments to growth" for Chicago's black community in 1900. Do these exist in any form today?
4. What was the Great Migration?
5. How much did Chicago's Black Metropolis grow in absolute numbers between 1900 and 1920?
1. What does the phrase "Wall Street of the black community" mean?
2. List the various types of businesses clustered at the center of Black Metropolis. Which ones suggest a "Wall Street" image?
3. When was the "boomtime" for this business community?
1. Do you think entertainment is an important aspect of community life? Why or why not?
2. Where did the "musical winds" circulating around State and Thirty-fifth Streets originate? Do you think we still feel their breezes today?
1. Why does the author combine religious life and social programs in the same paragraph?
2. Use an American history textbook to look up the term "social gospel" and relate it to the content of this paragraph.
3. What is a philanthropist?
1. Why did black voters at first work with the white Republican bosses in this district? How did this situation change?
2. Why are 1915 and 1928 significant dates in the story of political leadership in Black Metropolis?
1. Before radio and television, the print media played a much larger role in the life of a community than it does today. List some of the leading newspapers and magazines of Black Metropolis. Why did some of these publications appeal to an audience across the nation?
2. How was the Chicago Defender connected to the Great Migration?
1. What is an "alternate business area"? How did such a development threaten the traditional center of Black Metropolis?
2. What did black leaders mean by "the self-supporting momentum" of Black Metropolis? Why did they feel this would lead to eventual recognition by Chicago's downtown business establishment?
Paragraphs 11 and 12
1. What is a "skid row"? Why was this term used to describe the Thirty-fifth Street district in 1950?
2. What is urban renewal? When were urban renewal programs put into effect? Use an American history textbook to help develop your answer.
3. Some of the buildings torn down during the 1950s and 1960s were as important to the history of Black Metropolis as the surviving ones that were nominated to the National Register. At the time, however, they were not seen as historic. By the 1980s the community perceived buildings like these, dating from the 1910s and 1920s, as important documents of history that needed to be preserved. What factors may have contributed to this change in perception? Why might the same types of buildings have been considered historic in 1985, but not historic in the 1960s?