Yesterday, I wrote about the monument to The Great Migration that honors the six million African Americans who traveled from the South to Chicago beginning in 1910. Today, I touch on my personal history as I prepare to celebrate Black History Month.
In 1960, my family lived in Chicago on 31st and Calumet, just five blocks south of where the monument stood on 26thstreet. Back then, the cleaners, hardware store, restaurant, and other stores were owned by my friends’ parents. The Griffins owned the funeral home on 32nd Street; and their daughters went to school with us.
Doctors, teachers, and politicians all lived in the neighborhood, as did factory workers and janitors, but childhood friendships knew no economic bounds. We played together and received mentoring from dentists, funeral directors, and streetwise philosophers. There were varieties of lifestyles and economics. We ate three-course, dining room meals with one family, and fried chicken from a cardboard box with another.
We observed lifestyles and chose the ones we wanted to emulate. Our lives weren’t all lessons and lectures, though. Kids were kids, and girls jumped double-dutch, boys rode their bikes to the local playground to play around, and we never worried about getting shot. The neighborhood bully could be stopped as quickly as we could get to an adult and tell on him.
On summer afternoons, we’d sit on the stoops in front of our gray stone and brownstone homes and laugh as the watermelon man went by in his horse-drawn wagon. The horse would drop huge mounds of excrement as it moseyed slowly past the old mansions. The driver would sing out, “Watermell-oes! Get your sweet, juicy watermell-oes!”
I call our homes mansions because before black people migrated to Bronzeville, the area was named Grand Boulevard, and it was home to wealthy German Jewish families. When they moved, their single-family mansions were broken into four and five apartments that housed our families. The carriage houses behind were remodeled into apartments, too. Families who could afford it used them as garages.
Wednesday, February 1, starts Black History Month, and I will begin my series on the History of African American Chicago, highlighting its inventors, educators, and entertainers.
Governor Ron DeSantis (FL) has reportedly said African Americans have no history worth studying. This month, I’ll take great pains to disprove his statement as I sing the praises of a people who contributed, mightily, to the success of America.