Last month, I made my first visit to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

It certainly won’t be my last. It was a chilling experience.

Despite being there for three hours, I only made it through the lowest level of the museum, which documents the black experience in America from slavery through the Reconstruction era. I was mesmerized by the depth and detail of what I saw.

I was deeply moved as I slowly walked through the exhibits, stopping often to read and listen to personal accounts of the atrocities black people suffered during their first 250 years on American soil — and they The one who won

It was a history I was familiar with, but it was about taking it all in at once. It was heavy. I am sure that for the hundreds of people in attendance that day — including many whites, Asians, Latinos, and other visitors who were not black — it was impossible to remember what it meant … that despite overwhelming odds, blacks People suffered, survived and also flourished.

As I walked through the museum, just a mile and a half away, members of Congress were in the process of passing legislation to make the Bronzeville-Black Metropolis National Heritage Area.

The designation is the culmination of a decades-long effort that will help preserve and revitalize the historic neighborhood that served as the primary birthplace of Black Chicagoans.

The Heritage Zone will help preserve more than 200 historic sites in the designated area, which extends, in part, to 18th Street to the north, Lake Michigan to the east, 71st Street to the south, and Canal Street to the west.

It is also seen as a way to celebrate Bronzeville – for its contribution to black achievement in the arts, business, culture, politics and sports – and to serve as a monument to the Great Migration, which took half million African Americans brought from the city. South in the decade after World War I.

But we have to take much more than this.

My hope is that the National Museum captures the black experience in America what the National Heritage Area will do for the black experience in Chicago.

The black people who moved north to Chicago during the Great Migration—most of whom settled in Bronzeville—were among a special race. After surviving the horrors of Southern racism, he left everything behind and moved to Chicago in search of a better life, where he endured a more subtle but equally destructive brand of Northern racism.

And, yet, despite segregation, race riots, restrictive covenants, rescheduling, contract purchaseDisinvestment, and, oh yes, even more segregation, Black Chicagoans have persevered.

Among them are iconic names we all know, like Ida B. Wells, Lorraine Hansberry, Muddy Waters, and Oscar DePriest, just to name a few. But they also include many anonymous and unrecognized Black Chicagoans who have overcome all of the above to raise families, build careers, and develop self-sufficient and self-sufficient communities.

The Lorraine Hansberry House at 6140 South Rhodes Avenue in West Woodlawn.

Tyler Pasiek Lariviere/Sun-Times

In the process, he has crafted a powerful narrative. National Heritage Areas can help tell that story.

Exploring the history and heritage of Bronzeville gives us a sense of what it means to be Black while living, working and playing in this city. It also helps explain the current conditions of Chicago’s black neighborhoods and why we shouldn’t abandon them.

Too many of us underestimate Black Chicagoans – figuratively and literally – but those who do are overlooking the full story of Black life in our city, and underestimating the unique resilience of Black Chicagoans. have been

Although more than a century has passed since the start of the Great Migration, strong connections remain. Most black people here can tell you which of their relatives made that trek — and they share stories and lessons from their experiences. They’ve inherited the grit their ancestors were forced to live in cramped quarters in a segregated city, and the hustle and bustle they were forced to thrive in a place that practically invented structural racism. did. We should never underestimate the courage of the Black people of Chi-Town.

The struggles are real – as they always have been – but they remain secondary characters in an otherwise triumphant story.

Alden Lowry is senior editor at Race, Class and Communities WBEZand writes a monthly column for the Sun-Times.

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