Chicago’s Bronzeville is not only a living reminder of African-American history, but also a vibrant, thriving community on the near south side. Once the home of such greats as Gwendolyn Brooks, Louis Armstrong, Bessie Coleman and scores of other influential African-Americans, it is now booming with community-based revitalization that highlights its rich history.
Start your day with a visit to the DuSable Museum of African American History (740 E. 56th Place; 773-947-0600; dusablemuseum.org). Founded in 1961 by area educators, this intimate museum is named after Jean Baptist Pointe DuSable, a Haitian fur trader and the first permanent settler in Chicago. Current exhibitions explore the history of blacks in the armed forces, Muslims in early America and the art and culture of a variety of regions in Africa.
Pick up a treasure hunt map at the entrance desk: kids in grades pre-k-3 can search the galleries for fun and interesting facts about art and history. You can reward kids who do a good job with a miniature carved wooden animal from Africa ($1) or a book from a great selection of related children’s literature at the Trading Post, the museum store. Check online to reserve your spot in an array of family educational programs offered throughout the year: family theater and storytelling, drumming and dance classes and a penny cinema.
Pack a picnic to enjoy on the grassy fields of Washington Park (adjacent to the
DuSable Museum), designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. Or hop on over to Soul Vegetarian (205 E. 75th St., 773-224-0104), and enjoy collard greens, cornbread, BBQ and mouthwatering cakes (don’t even think about not saving room for a slice of coconut cake!) and it’s all vegetarian.
The meat lovers in your family will adore Wings Around the World (321 E. 35th St., 312-326-6930), a tribute to chicken wings with spices and marinades inspired by world travels. Home of Chicken& Waffles (3947 S. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, 773-536-3300) features—you guessed it—everybody’s favorites, fried chicken and waffles.
Take a walk down Martin Luther King Drive, from 24th to 35th streets, where you’ll see examples of outstanding Chicago-style architecture dotted with plaques and statues commemorating important local people and events. Check out Gregg LeFevre’s 14-foot bronze map of the neighborhood’s history (Martin Luther King Drive at 35th Street). Your kids will better understand and appreciate Alison Saar’s Monument to the Great Northern Migration statue (Martin Luther King Drive at 24th Street) if you read up on the history before you go: check out The Great Migration: An American Story, by Jacob Lawrence ($8.99, Amazon.com).
Take a book-browsing break at the Chicago Bee Library (3647 S. State St., 312-747-6872), housed in the historic Art Deco Chicago Bee Building, once the home to a thriving Bronzeville newspaper. Peek inside the Gallery Guichard (3521 S. Martin Luther King Drive, 773-373-8000, galleryguichard.com), which features the art of the African Diaspora. Parents will be inspired to return for the evening gallery walks.
Cap your trip with a reading of Gwendolyn Brooks Bronzeville Boys and Girls, ($13.25, Amazon.com), a bright poetry collection where every child will find a catchy verse to relate to.
Consider visiting Bronzeville on a Sunday, when you can tie in a pit stop to the Bronzeville Community Market (4400 Cottage Grove, just north of 47th Street, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday through the end of October), where you’ll find fruits and veggies, gourmet foods and health, wellness and beauty products. Support local farmers and businesses by gathering goods for your lunchtime picnic in Washington Park.