Anthony Overton was born a slave in Monroe, Louisiana, in 1865. His father sent him away to high school in Topeka, Kansas, so he would have a better chance of getting a good education. He got a degree in chemistry at Washburn College and a second degree in law from the University of Kansas. Later, from 1888 to 1889, he would serve as a municipal court judge in Topeka.

Then Overton moved to Oklahoma and opened a general store and a bank and operated a sawmill and cotton gin. But when the notorious Dalton brothers robbed his general store in 1893, Overton moved to Kansas City, where he put his knowledge of chemistry to work in the cosmetics business. He started the Overton Hygienic Manufacturing Company in 1898 with an investment of about $2,000. His first product was baking powder, a base from which he was able to develop a number of face powders and other assorted toiletries.

The company grew and soon Overton was looking north for bigger worlds to conquer. When he moved his business in 1911, he located it in the neighborhood of 35th and State, the cultural and financial epicenter of black Chicago: Black Metropolis.

You wouldn’t know it to look at it today, but it was a hell of a place back then. State Street was lined with gambling dens, bawdy houses, theaters, movie palaces, and vaudeville shows. Carnivals and expositions were held there throughout the summer. Chicago’s first black repertory theater company presented plays and musicals at the luxurious Pekin Theater, located at 2700 S. State. There were blues and jazz and New Orleans music clubs that booked the likes of Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton. Dempsey J. Travis writes in An Autobiography of Black Chicago that “35th and State was home to thousands of black Chicagoans who sought breathing space outside their cubicle rooms and kitchenettes. People walked, talked, laughed, and gestured around the intersection all night long.

“State Street was both Wall Street and Broadway to the black community. The white lights of South State Street went on after the red lights of New Orleans’ Storeyville section went out in November, 1917, when New Orleans’ mayor, on order of the Secretary of the Navy, closed down the houses of prostitution. That produced instant depression among the jazz men who had played those houses and the honky tonks of Storeyville. Many of those talented musicians . . . rode the rails north to Chicago.”

Black Metropolis was a self-contained and self-sustaining community where many black business pioneers thrived. Joe Jordan, who wrote tunes for Fanny Brice and the Ziegfeld Follies and conducted the Negro Orchestra of the Federal Theatre Project’s Macbeth (directed by Orson Welles), had his music publishing business and a building with his name on it at 35th and State. Jesse Binga founded the first black-owned and -operated bank here, and next door the great Binga Arcade, with its 20 Belgian chandeliers, became a symbol of the area’s prosperity.

The Overton Hygienic Building at 36th and State was constructed in 1922. It was a six-floor office building housing Overton Hygienic’s manufacturing and products divisions. It also held office space for black professionals. Around Black Metropolis Anthony Overton became known as the “High-Brown” man for his High-Brown face powders and steadfast dedication to improving the image of African Americans.

Overton held firmly to a vow that his firm would be composed “entirely of Negroes.” He made it a point that he would not employ a single white person “in any capacity” and insisted that “not a dollar of white capital [would be] used either directly or indirectly.” To further serve his race he began publishing Half Century Magazine, a “colored magazine for the home and homemaker.”

“The average white person reading one of our journals would get the impression that we are a race of thieves and murderers,” glowered Overton in the July-August 1923 issue. “That all of our women are disreputable and that scandal is the very breath of life to us. Why not clean up a bit and seek some news that is cleaner and more uplifting? Let us tell the people of the good that we are doing.”

Branching out from facial and social cosmetology, Overton founded the Douglass National Bank in the 20s (named for the abolitionist Frederick Douglass) and the Victory Life Insurance Company, both housed in the Overton Hygienic Building. He phased out Half Century in 1925 so he could publish the Chicago Bee, a weekly newspaper meant to compete with the Chicago Defender. Overton said it would “fulfill certain ideals of journalism not found in other publications.” To house this new endeavor Overton erected a $200,000 building with a green terra-cotta facade on the 3600 block of South State. Outfitted with “every modern equipment and facility,” it became a centerpiece of Black Metropolis.

Overton promised readers of the Bee that his newspaper would dedicate itself to “higher education for all groups, cordial relations between the races, civic and racial improvement, the promotion of Negro business, and good, wholesome and authentic news fit for any member of the family.” The Bee never took off as Overton hoped it would, achieving a readership of only about 50,000 at its peak. It is, however, noteworthy for the fact that for its 20 years of existence it was staffed entirely by women, black newspapermen being difficult to come by during the Depression and World War II.

The Depression took its toll on all of Black Metropolis; many of Overton’s businesses collapsed alongside those that surrounded him. The neighborhood’s clubs began to cater to a crowd of gangsters and gamblers. The center of black business moved south to 47th and South Parkway (now Martin Luther King Jr. Drive). Jesse Binga’s bank closed in 1930, and Binga later served time for embezzlement. The Douglass National Bank closed its doors and Overton dissolved the Victory Life Insurance Company in 1932. As soon as the Chicago Bee Building was completed in 1931, Overton moved his cosmetics business there and was forced to sell the Overton Hygienic Building. He did manage to keep the Bee running until his death in 1946, and the Overton Hygienic Manufacturing Company stayed in business through the early 80s.

Today very little remains of Black Metropolis that can begin to recall the vision and accomplishment of Anthony Overton and his contemporaries. The little that does still stand is either broken down or boarded up. Both the Overton Hygienic Building and the Chicago Bee Building have suffered the ravages of time, weather, vandals, and brick thieves. Nearby at 3533 S. Giles stands the Eighth Regiment Armory, a hulking, boarded-up monument to the achievements of the “Black Devuks,” the first all-black-commanded regiment of the U.S. Army, which served in the Spanish-American War and World War I. The armory was constructed in 1914 and housed a rifle range, drill hall, two reception halls, smoking parlors, even a bowling alley.

The Wabash Avenue YMCA, designed by architect Robert Berlin and funded with the assistance of Julius Rosenwald in 1911, also remains at 3763 S. Wabash. Once billed by the Defender as an “epoch making” structure representing the “opportunity of a lifetime [for] the young men of Chicago,” the Y shut its doors in 1969. It reopened briefly as an employment-training and community center in the 1970s.

The Overton Hygienic Building, the Chicago Bee Building, the Wabash Avenue YMCA, and the Eighth Regiment Armory were “erected in order to create an independent black business community as an alternative to the racial restrictions of the downtown business establishments of that time,” according to preservation specialist Tim Samuelson of the Commission on Chicago’s Landmarks. Today, says Samuelson, they’re “flying to pieces.”

Since 1970 the mid-south side, defined as the area bounded by Cermak Road, 51st Street, the Dan Ryan Expressway, and Cottage Grove Avenue, has seen its population drop by nearly 45 percent. Thirty percent of the land is vacant or abandoned, and 52 percent of its residents live below the poverty level.

These grim statistics come from the Mid-South Planning Group, a coalition of neighborhood organizations, businesses, and concerned individuals that is interested in revitalizing the area as the Black Metropolis Historic District. It plans to restore the buildings that remain and develop new uses for them.

Several other groups and individuals have stepped forward with plans of their own. Congressman Bobby Rush has expressed a commitment to recapturing the age of “Bronzeville” (as Black Metropolis was also known), envisioning a bustling community of music clubs and entertainment centers. Dr. Sokoni Karanja, president of the Centers for New Horizons and a member of the Southside Partnership, a group of seven businesses, educational centers, and neighborhood organizations that is working with the Mid-South Planning Group, is promoting an ambitious plan that would link the development of the mid-south side to the McCormick Place expansion. Karanja proposes to build a 30,000- to 75,000-seat convention center adjacent to the McCormick expansion to house events such as the Baptist and Apostolic church conventions, which he says are too big for current Chicago facilities.

In February the Mid-South Planning Group sponsored a planning session at the Illinois Institute of Technology where proposals for the four remaining buildings of Black Metropolis and rejuvenation of the area were discussed. According to Paula Robinson of BR&R Communications, most of the conversation was about how to focus on the future of the mid-south side without overlooking its past. She said, “Part of the challenge is bringing together what has been and what can be.”

The Mid-South Planning Group is considering plans to turn the Wabash Avenue YMCA into a single-room-occupancy hotel and recreation facility. The Overton Hygienic Building might be used as a day-care center and educational facility for parents. Plans are on the table to reopen the Eighth Regiment Armory as a site for retail stores and business conferences. High school proms and parties could be held in the ballroom of the armory, which during its heyday held up to 800 people.

The first priority of the Mid-South Planning Group and others in the community is to reopen the Chicago Bee Building as a public library branch. This plan has been discussed for many years and the McClier and UBM contracting firms have been enlisted for the $2.5 million renovation project. What is currently under discussion is what to do with the third floor of the building. Steven Redfield of the Mid-South Planning Group says that several proposals are under consideration, including senior-citizen and child-care programs, a computer-literacy facility, and a historical archive that would trace the history of Black Metropolis.

“The Bee Building was once black-owned and it was where black business first originated,” said Reverend Deborah Jones, a lay minister of Saint Elizabeth Catholic Church. Jones has converted the building across the street, at 24 E. 41st St., into the Tolton Adult Education Center, which offers educational programs, job training, and food distribution. Jones has worked with the Mid-South Planning Group and is also the Second Ward Committeewoman for the Harold Washington Party.

“I think we need to go back to that particular spot where the Bee Building is and start all over again,” she said, “because I always tell my kids that if you don’t know your past, you’re going to live it out.”

Last summer the Mid-South Planning Group held a press conference at the Bee Building; they boarded it up and fenced it in and announced their plans to save the structure. During the press conference Jones saw police carrying a body out of the Stateway Gardens housing project across the street.

“Last weekend the peace treaty broke between the gangs,” said Jones with a shudder in an interview earlier this year. “For one whole week they were shooting. Two young ladies were shot. That’s why it’s important for the Bee Building to come back. We need educational programs and job training programs for the kids. Have you ever been in Stateway Gardens? It looks like Night of the Living Dead in there. People are shooting up drugs and crime is still going up.

“Last summer I had two of my students gunned down at 40th and Calumet. They had their ears cut off and stuffed in their mouths. They had decided they didn’t need the church anymore. I told them when you walk on the battlefield, Goliath is waiting. Now they’re DOA. I have lost a lot of students in these gang riots. The kids are killing each other and themselves. Too many people are getting shot on State Street.

“This is bigger than we can even imagine,” Jones said. “If you could step over there in those projects and live it for a day, it’s a nightmare. Young women are selling their bodies. We’ve got to come up with a plan. That’s what the Chicago Bee is all about.”

Like many others in her community, Jones hopes for the best but fears that things could get a lot worse before they get better. “The gangs are not afraid of the police no more,” she observed. “The drug dealers don’t care about the police no more. I got kids who have family members 12 and 13 years old driving Blazers.

“The Bee Building is the beginning of social programs for Stateway Gardens. We could be somewhat instrumental in this project for the sake of the people, because if we don’t they’ll just shoot each other up, and I don’t know if that’s the bureaucratic plan–for African Americans to kill each other off. I always said that when those buildings were built that there was no way you could stick people on top of each other and expect them to get along.

“All we hear about these days is McDome,” Jones continued, referring to the plans for expansion of McCormick Place. “What’s in it for African Americans? If you’re talking about little black children standing behind barricades while middle-class people come and enjoy themselves, they can forget it.

“These kids are being exposed to ammunition now. They know how to shoot an Uzi at nine years old. They’re not going to stand behind barricades and watch people have a good time. We gotta deal with the real issues here. Our proposals for the Bee Building and the rest of Black Metropolis could be a constructive plan that will help people, motivate them and encourage them to go into positive education.” Jones thinks that gang violence could be deterred by employing gang members as decorators and plasterers in the renovation of the Bee Building. She said she has met with local gang leaders and since that meeting no one has defaced or vandalized the structure.

“The history is here. The foundations are here. A lot of the buildings have been destroyed, but there are still the landmarks,” said Jones. “Most of the people don’t understand what Black Metropolis means, how significant it is to our history. It’s just a small number of groups that are concerned with this. We have to do something positive because if we don’t, who’s going to? Everything we’re talking about should have been done yesterday.”

“The reason why nothing has been done is racism. Institutional racism. I don’t think you can label it anything else. It’s unfortunate that as we move into the 21st century we still have political leadership who doesn’t feel that the African American community should benefit from the revitalization of inner-city communities,” said Harold Lucas.

Lucas is program manager and an organizer for the Community Workshop on Economic Development, a ten-year-old organization that focuses on low- and moderate-income neighborhoods citywide, and a member of the Mid-South Planning Group. He worked for a time as an organizer with the community organization Youth, Vision and Integrity and as program director for the Statewide Housing Action Coalition. Lucas has been active in the civil rights movement since the 60s and led an unsuccessful effort to rescue the Jordan Building from demolition in 1986.

“Some weeks ago there was a bulldozer moving out around the Chicago Bee Building and it sent out an alarm throughout our entire network,” Lucas said. “We’re not going to let the history of black Chicago be destroyed. Currently, we are shut out of all the amenities of the city’s historic districts. The historic districts are primarily on the near north side and in the lakefront communities. You have one in Pullman and the Glessner House, but you have none that represent the historical contributions of African Americans in Chicago. Our landmarks are in the state of being lost.

“Our community is fed up. I come from the 60s movement and this is the first time that I’ve been intimidated by my own youth. I know they would do me physical harm if they thought I wasn’t representing their interests. I don’t think any of us can ride around in our limousines and walk with our girlfriends and have a drink without the fear that some wild fool that feels no sense of value for his own life will shoot you if you don’t give him something. Unless the African American community develops along with the other ethnic communities and gets its fair share and the kind of support it needs, there’s not going to be any peace and this will not be a world-class city. You can’t be a world-class city with two huge ghettos on the south and west sides.”

Lucas sees the restoration of the four remaining buildings of Black Metropolis as perhaps the last chance to save the community from a period of overwhelming violence that he compares to the current situation in what was once Yugoslavia. The comparison might be a stretch, but not enough of one to provide much comfort.

“The word on the street is ‘No Justice, No Peace!'” said Lucas. “That’s the word from the gangs, the disenfranchised, the people who are fed up. The upper middle class and the other ethnic communities are in danger of being moved on by the other people in the black community at the low income level who feel that they have been exploited.

“We deserve the linkages from the people who cut the McCormick expansion deal while cutting welfare subsidies,” he continued. “You mean to say that you’re not going to let us work on the project while you cut our welfare subsidy to support McCormick expansion? You did it at the same time. Or is your institutional racism so great that you don’t care? And if you don’t care, our children don’t care no more and they’re willing to throw their lives away.

“You’re going to see a grass-roots movement stopping construction workers from working on construction sites in our neighborhood,” said Lucas. “You think you can bring in 200 white folks to work on these construction projects and not anyone from the community? It’s not going to happen. Those white boys are going to get beat up. They’re going to get accosted physically.

“The tension on the streets is going up. Any spark can cause 8,000 kids to run through the community and cause havoc. There has to be parity in employing our young men. They’re not just going to sit in gangs and stay isolated and kill each other into the 21st century. What Sister Souljah said is very real. What if they stopped killing each other and focused on who they see to be the real enemy? If that happens, there’s not going to be any peace anywhere.

“The guns and arms are in the community and they don’t care anymore,” he said. “They have no moral base, no church base. We need the support of the broader community to solve all of these problems. By starting with the Chicago Bee and identifying an adaptive reuse strategy that deals with education, that deals with a library, that deals with a computer-training center and a historical archive so we can record our own history, we can begin to move in the right direction.”

One of the most intriguing and ambitious proposals for Black Metropolis and the mid-south side, one that has been embraced by Lucas and the Mid-South Planning Group, is a concept paper called “Africa in Chicago” developed by hospitality professor Michael Smith of Roosevelt University. His idea is to turn the area into a sort of permanent world’s fair site. Africa in Chicago seeks to preserve the four landmark buildings of Black Metropolis under a larger plan that would establish pavilions and businesses representing countries of Africa and countries of the African diaspora in order to establish cultural and economic links between African Americans in Chicago and people in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. The idea is to create a unique tourism site that would honor African American history in Chicago and educate people about the roots of their culture.

Though the plan seems impossibly massive and expensive, carrying an estimated price tag of about a billion dollars, there are some who feel that it is not outside the realm of possibility. Harold Lucas in particular thinks the very ambition of the plan could stimulate constructive progress in the mid-south community. Lucas likes the idea of turning one of Chicago’s most feared neighborhoods into a tourist attraction, thus benefiting not only the mid-south side but the entire city as well.

“The city is moving toward high-tech industries with tourism and hospitality as its main attractions,” he said. “In Chinatown you’ve got 20 Chinese restaurants. We need to have 20 soul food cafes so that people can feel safe enough to come to our community, spend their money, and enjoy our cultural amenities. Chinatown has its gateway; we want our own gateway. We want to reopen the theaters and shows in our community.

“I want to see carriages riding up South Parkway and State Street with young black couples or white couples who want to ride south. We want State Street to be the mecca for Black Metropolis again,” Lucas continued. “Our history is as deep as the Harlem Renaissance or deeper. If we are talking about using Al Capone and the Untouchables as a marketing tool for tourism, let’s talk about the real artistic culture–the real contributions of those who built this town.”

Michael Smith, the creator of Africa in Chicago, is a soft-spoken, contemplative man whose voice betrays only a slight touch of an accent left over from his home country of the Bahamas. He has taught at Michigan and Ohio State and worked as director of the Bahamas Hotel Training College. “Recently I’ve turned 50 and most of what I’ve done has centered around me and getting an education,” he says. “This is the second half of my life and I’d like to give back.”

Smith’s unassuming manner makes almost everything he says seem plausible. In fact, after several conversations with him, it only seems a matter of about ten years before the south side will be bustling again like the Black Metropolis of old with Nigerian cafes and Caribbean restaurants and African businesses and museums and exposition halls of all sorts. Though there are no architectural plans or even any definite investors signed onto the project, Smith seems confident that Africa in Chicago could become a reality before the beginning of the 21st century.

Smith’s concept paper begins with a question: “Community development, economic development, local ownership and control, cultural diversity, empowerment, social justice, economic democracy, education for critical consciousness–are these theoretical well intentioned concepts or can they become a reality?”

His vision centers on what he calls the three streams of African American consciousness and history. The streams comprise the experiences of Africa; the African diaspora to Latin America, North America, and the Caribbean; and the black experience in America.

“We don’t know enough about our own culture, our own heritage, our own diversity,” says Smith. “We don’t know what we have contributed in various countries and as we begin to learn and as people are involved in businesses and projects, we will begin to better appreciate where we are and how we got here.”

Smith anticipates that 60 or more countries could participate. At the very least, he says, it’s a 15-year-plan, and at present the only concrete action toward bringing it into reality has been its adoption by the Mid-South Planning Group last April and some initial contacts with investors, architects, and planners whose input is being used in refining the plan.

Researchers and businesspeople from participating countries would cooperate with local businesspeople and workers in the building of businesses and pavilions. For example, one quadrant on the mid-south side would be reserved as, say, the Nigerian section. The Nigerian government would enlist architects to design a Nigerian pavilion that would be constructed by Chicago workers. Foods and other products from Nigeria would be offered for sale in the pavilion, which would be surrounded by more stores selling Nigerian goods. There would be Nigerian restaurants and nightclubs, and down the street in the next quadrant would be maybe a Tanzanian pavilion surrounded by Tanzanian businesses.

“The idea came out of a meeting I had with the South Shore Bank and some African businessmen who were here seeking to develop linkages with African Americans,” recalls Smith. “I said, ‘Why not?’ At the time, Paul Simon’s record [Graceland] had just hit the charts and I thought the music was beautiful. Coming from the Caribbean I know about calypso and reggae and steel drums. I go into food stores these days and I see more and more tropical foods. All of these things led me to say, ‘Michael! Michael! There are some opportunities here.'”

Smith’s proposal promises a “vibrant, interactive twenty-four hour community of tourism, fun, culture, entertainment, trade, education, and research.” Smith hopes that if the plan is successful it could be used as a model for similar projects around the world. He says Africa in Chicago could be broadened to include other ethnic groups, including Native Americans. Everyone can participate. Even McDonald’s can join if it conforms to the African theme.

“The idea is that it’s not exclusionary of any race,” says Smith. “It’s just that the theme is in the context of the African tradition. If you go to Winnetka you see McDonald’s, but you don’t see the golden arches. The building it’s housed in is in keeping with the rest of Winnetka. You can have the corporations, but they have to be within the context. Hopefully if McDonald’s decides to locate in the area, they’ll use it as a location to experiment with their menus. If you develop a food processing business in the area, McDonald’s might want to use it to experiment with a fast-food item that has an Ethiopian flavor.”

Behind Smith’s uncompromising optimism and even, perhaps, naivete there is a genuine mission to not only help the people of Chicago but also revitalize the entire tourism industry, which he perceives as stagnant and repetitive. “When you enter a hotel [in the Bahamas], for all intents and purposes you haven’t left America,” he complains. “The technology of a disco, for example, is fantastic, but what has happened because of people’s myopic view is that they bring into the disco the music that was playing in the country where they saw it. You get the feeling that music from another place is better than yours and the visitor that comes to visit you has nothing new to learn or to experience.

“Travel should be the sharing of different cultural experience. When you come to the Bahamas, you should come back richer for having had that experience as opposed to grumbling that the McDonald’s there is more expensive than the McDonald’s down here and doesn’t taste as good, as opposed to having eaten conch and grouper for the first time and finding it interesting. Furthermore, if you found it interesting, you might want to have it back here in Chicago. With the new experience, there may arise new and different kinds of business opportunities. We haven’t developed that.”

Of course Smith’s proposal has a number of problems. The scope of it is mind-boggling; it would probably be the most expansive city development project in recent memory, since Burnham anyway. Recruiting and working with 60 different countries would appear to be a major headache, and one can anticipate plenty of zoning tangles.

Smith knows the criticisms that will be leveled against his plan. He has recently tried to refine his vision “in the context of reality,” and he says that in order for people to really become interested in the project, they have to become better acquainted with their own histories. This summer he hopes to get involved in cultural events that bring the mid-south community together. Next year he plans to invite representatives from Africa and the countries of the African diaspora to participate in the culture of the community, perhaps through celebrations of certain nations’ independence days. From there, sister-city relationships could develop between Chicago and cities abroad. Smith says that the first pavilion could be built as early as 1996 and he hopes construction will snowball until all 60 pavilions are in place. He says, “I have this big picture and it’s a matter of bringing all the pieces together.”

Smith doesn’t see his plan as outside the realm of possibility, and maybe this optimism will rub off on those who come in contact with him. After all, when Jesse Binga, Joe Jordan, and Anthony Overton were developing Black Metropolis almost a hundred years ago, their plans must have seemed just as utopian.

“It is a tangible project that offers hope,” says Smith. “‘I am somebody’ is important rhetoric, but I’m seeking to make it manifest and this is something we can build toward. It’s recapturing our cultural heritage and inviting others to share in our cultural traditions and heritage. It’s in keeping with the bootstrap concept. It will challenge stereotypes. If you’re doing something with honesty and with honest intent, then you will get the respect of everyone in the community–even the gangs.

“You have to put your theory into practice. This project is about recovering the history of black Chicago and hopefully incorporating the richness and the diversity of the activities of African Americans. To some extent there will be a recovering of the architecture in that area, but I don’t think you should turn it into a living museum. I see it as a much more vibrant place, a 21st-century community, having the ability to learn about what was once there and to build from it.”

As with any massive project, the success of Africa in Chicago lies in the hands of the community’s children, who need to find an alternative to the drugs and gangs. Most of those involved in the project are trying to educate the area’s youngsters about the need to preserve and build upon the history of Black Metropolis.

“The younger generation knows almost nothing about it and it’s a shame,” says Floyd Butler, a history teacher at Price Elementary School. Butler has started the Young Urban Preservationists Society for his seventh and eighth grade students. In his program students must research the history of the buildings of the south side and come up with plans for revitalizing and providing new uses for them. Butler hopes that this project will encourage the children to become the urban planners and architects for the new Black Metropolis.

“The Chicago Bee Building, for example, doesn’t look good,” he says. “The facade is still beautiful, but the interior has deteriorated partially. I started talking to some of the kids in the neighborhood. They told me, ‘It’s just an old building; it’s no good.’ But this gave me the idea that it’s time to teach our young people about how important these buildings were and what their history has been.”

Harold Lucas has a plan to send children out with tape recorders to interview older residents about the history of the neighborhood. He hopes their research will be included in an exhibition at the new library branch that will open in the Chicago Bee Building.

“We want to go to the children, the population that has not yet been biased by drugs and gangs yet,” he says. “We want them to develop careers in community organizing and architectural design. We’re going to send the kids out to do surveys of what programs the community needs and what programs the community would like to see implemented. The kids need to be involved because they’re the ones who’re going to be responsible for rebuilding this community, and they’ll be responsible for bringing it back to what it once was.”

“For a lot of kids, school is boring,” remarks Michael Smith. “We need to deschool our society and take the things that are housed in universities and schools and bring them to the children so that the knowledge is not monopolized by institutions. Nigerian history will no longer be boring with the Nigerian pavilion just down the street. Africa in Chicago will provide the tools that this community needs to return to its former glory. We will literally be using our roots to pull ourselves up.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Peter van Vilet; photos/Ron Gordon, courtesy Chicago Historical Society, courtesy Commission on Chicago Landmarks.