This semester in the Visualizing Cities Lab, I was a part of the Chicago team which studied the city through the lens of the 1933 “Century of Progress International Exposition”, also known as the Chicago World’s Fair. Focused on the post-depression future, the Century of Progress was meant to showcase the developments of American industry in the century since the official beginnings of Chicago. Rather than focus on the propaganda that touted the engineering and technological feats of the fair, we looked at the lives of Chicagoans through Drake and Clayton’s “Black Metropolis”, which focuses on the Black neighborhood of Bronzeville, or Chicago’s South Side. This helped us look at the impacts of the fair as a temporary construct in a city with a real, permanent population with interests that would outlast the buildings of the fair. Our other window into everyday life came from the archives of the Chicago Defender, a Black-owned newspaper that reported (and still exists online today) on issues of interest for the Bronzeville community.

The article that I focused on most was a “What Do You Say About It?” write-in article, in which readers sent in postcard responses to the previous week’s question. The question of May 28, 1932 asked if Black Americans should have an exhibit housed in its own separate building, or if they should have exhibits displayed in several buildings on the fair grounds. In this case, I found it interesting that every published response was of the mind that the Black exhibits should be spread out through the fair. Many of the respondents made the arguments that the community should not segregate itself, and worried that being housed separately would result in the exhibits being banished to some far corner of the fair. This speaks a bit to the political purpose of the Defender, which was often a tool for the editor to push a desegregationist agenda focused on Black prosperity while still reporting on local and community news. I also examined an article about the possibility of hosting an “Africa Exhibit” at the fair, with some discussion of what it may look like. The authors presented it as comparable to the Native American exhibit, which was intended to showcase dwellings and customs.

In the future, I would like to take some time to examine the role of the Defender in local politics. For example, “Black Metropolis” discusses the election of a “Mayor of Bronzeville”, a role filled by annual elections. The Mayor, while not technically a government official, was expected to act as a community spokesperson by attending important events and advocating for the community. I would also like to use the Neatline software more, which allows for digital storytelling through maps and timelines.