Bronzeville, Chicago

I’m writing an essay for Granta about Bronzeville, the Great Migration of African Americans from the south to Chicago early in the Twentieth Century, Chicago’s racism, and my favorite Chicago library, which sits in Bronzeville, the Chicago Bee branch.  I’m working flat out

Librarian Jo Willis in front of the Chicago Bee branch's Art Deco doors

Librarian Jo Willis in front of the Chicago Bee branch's Art Deco doors

to meet Granta’s deadline, but when I’m done I’ll post some of what I’ve been learning here, so stay tuned.

Bronzeville used to have a vibrant shopping and entertainment area, around 35th and State; the Bee branch of the library, which used to house the Chicago Bee newspaper, is the only remaining building from that time.  However, Gregg Spears painted a vibrant portrait of Bronzeville that hangs in the library’s lobby.

Bronzeville, by Gregg Spears

Bronzeville, by Gregg Spears



  • I just re-read “Blacklist” a couple of weeks ago, so it was very cool to see this on your blog today! I look forward to more.

    Thank you for posting these pictures – they help bring the book to life for me. Thank heavens they saved the Bee building!

  • Thanks for checking in–I love this library!

  • There are several remaining buildings from this time, one is right next door, the Overton Building. These buildings make up the Black Metropolis Historic District listed on the National Register of Historic Places and are also Chicago landmarks. We are currently working with Congressman Bobby Rush to designate the Black Metropolis National Heritage Area

    Look forward to reading your essay!

  • Paula, thanks for pointing that out–I tend to think of the Overton building and the library as the same place, but of course they’re not. The green building in the Spears’ painting–hard to make out in my tiny snapshot–is the Overton building

  • chris g

    Does anybody know if this painting at the bee has been made into prints or how to get a hold of Mr spears?

  • Apparently there are no prints available. I have tried to track down Mr. Spears and been unsuccessful. Sorry!


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