Was there prosperity in the Black Metropolis?  How did we thrive without venture capital, business plans and bank loans? Were their black success stories during segregation?  Yes.  A lot.

From 1915 to 1950 over 7 million African-Americans migrated from America’s Southern states to various parts of the United States.  This “exodus” is documented as the greatest migration in recorded history.  Over one-half million of these citizens came to Chicago to escape extreme racism.  From 1916 until 1948, racially restrictive legal covenants were used to keep Chicago's neighborhoods White. In language suggested by the Chicago Real Estate Board, legally binding covenants attached to parcels of land varying in size from city block to large subdivision prohibited African-Americans from using, occupying, buying, leasing, or receiving property in those areas.  While the living circumstances were certainly from bad to less bad, the community thrived.

The public narrative of Black Chicago has been aggressively misrepresented as one of permanent crisis since the migration.  Generations of young African Americans in Chicago are not aware of the hundreds of small businesses and the many industries that grew from the vim and vigor of those making a better life for their families.  This new narrative that venture capital, bank loans and gentrification are the only solutions to Black success encourage a permanent dependency on outside sources and removes all models of self-reliance that actually led to prosperity and success in a community rarely helped by external debt models. 

This exhibit will feature the economic engines of  The Policy Kings that “ran the Numbers” or as we say today, held the local Lottery who also served as the micro-lenders to the hundreds of small businesses owned by Black entrepreneurs; The Binga Bank, the first Black owned Bank in the North; and The South Center Department Store of 47th Street circa 1928 for starters!  We will show the vintage black glamour of the day that riveled The Harlem Renaissance; The famous Savoy Ballroom; The Ritz Hotel and Theater; The Chicago Defender Newspaper and the Pullman Porters who practically smuggled the newspaper to Blacks in the South and led to the Migration; The four additional Black Newspapers of the Day and The Bud-Billiken Parade which after 88 years, still goes strong as the 2nd largest parade in the country. 


John V.



1856 - 1907

"While my family went in for religion and all that,

I didn't exactly fancy so much book learning, 

and went out to see where the money grew. 

Some of those who know me say that I found it"

                                - John V. "Mushmouth" Johnson

The Team

Angela Ford

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Executive Director

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John Moore, III

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Content Contributor

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Nathan Thompson

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Author, Historian

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Charles Bowen

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Warren Chapman

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Howard Brookins, Sr

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Content Contributor


Timuel Black

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T. Shawn Taylor

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Media & Public Relations

"No race or nation stands still - they must either go forward in the race for development or they must go back and lose what they have gained in the previous struggle."

- Ed Wright, Chicago Attorney c. 1912


The Forum is located at 318-328 East 43rd Street (adjacent to the CTA station) in Chicago’s historic Bronzeville community. Built in 1897, the structure contains one of the most important assembly/performance halls in the city and possibly the oldest hardwood ballroom dance floor in Chicago. It building played a significant role in Chicago’s African-American cultural scene. 



The Forum

318 - 328 East 43rd Street

Chicago, IL  60653


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Chicago, IL  60615

Tel: 312-447-0400

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