Over the course of the semester, I worked on learning more about Bronzeville, Illinois during the 1930’s, specifically in relation to the church. Our group focused on the relation of Chicago’s World Fair of 1934 and how that affected the culture of Bronzeville throughout the period, centering our research around the book Black Metropolis. We learned how to use Omeka and Neatline to build an exhibit about Bronzeville’s historical culture. Personally, I added a few photographs of churches and newspaper articles to the Omeka exhibit. I also added the photographs on our Neatline exhibit to map the spatial and temporal relations of various churches.
In my research, I learned about the social impact that the pulpit had. Not only was the church a major religious institution in Bronzeville, but it was also the main social and political institution through which residents could express their beliefs. The church was responsible for organizing numerous social events, such as game nights, dances, and cinema nights, to create a sense of community among churchgoers. Transferring between different churches and denominations also occurred relatively often, since the focus of attendees was on the social rather than religious benefits of church. Furthermore, the churches held a fair amount of political power and hosted meetings for social justice movements. They advocated for social justice, educated their youth on politics, and allowed residents to exchange tips and advice to survive in a white-dominated world. Most of the churches were not profit-generating megachurches; rather, they began as community-oriented, store-front-style churches that made practicing religion accessible for all residents. Non-Christian religious institutions similarly operated as social and political movements. For example, the Moorish Science Temple of America is an Islamic denomination that fought specifically for African American rights. This temple also maintained good relations with the Chicago Defender, a black-owned newspaper known for its racial justice agenda.
The most interesting source I came across was a newspaper article titled “Why Go to Church?” in the Chicago Defender. The article consisted of a diverse array of interviews with churchgoers who told the interviewer why they attended church. The reasons were mostly not religious, with some people wanting to hang out with or impress their friends, while others wanted to participate in the social justice movements.
I learned a lot about Bronzeville’s history and culture in the 1930’s through this project. The chapter from Black Metropolis I read was interesting, and I would consider reading the rest of it at another time. I was also interested in the connections between all our focus areas, from press to pulpit to businesses to the World Fair. I wish that we had more time to delve into different sources and find more material for our Omeka/Neatline exhibit this semester. I am excited to build up our exhibit next semester by adding more primary resources and conducting more research into the era.
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