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12.21.21 | Sage Advice

A Brief History of The Chicago Bee

The promotion of Bronzeville’s rich history is something we continuously advocate for and give voice to at Sage Collective. That’s why today, we’re spreading the word about The Chicago Bee, a local paper that dominated the press for decades while distinguishing itself by its promotion of Black history.

History

The Chicago Bee, often referred to as Chicago Sunday Bee, was founded by Anthony Overton in 1925. Overton was a successful banker and manufacturer, and the first African American to lead a major conglomerate (Overton Hygienic Company, which was a cosmetics business). After its founding, the Bee moved into the now-famous Art Deco building located at 3647-55 S. State St., which is now on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and recognized as a Chicago Landmark. 

The Bee’s staff included many esteemed members of Chicago’s community of writers and journalists at the time. Chandler Owen, a talented writer, became editor of the Bee after moving to Chicago in the 1920s and worked with other savvy editors including Ida B. Wells and Olive Diggs. During the World War II years, when men were in active military duty, the majority of the writing staff were women, which allowed them unprecedented autonomy and opportunity for advancement. 

The Bee covered a wide range of issues of the day. It was the first newspaper to support the efforts of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the nation’s first all-Black labor union created during conflicts at The Pullman Company. It also supported and covered the Black women’s club movement, and gained distinction from other newspapers in the Chicago press in their publicity of Black history and literature.  

Following Overton’s passing in 1946, the Bee was briefly run by his two sons but ceased operation in 1947. Even though very little of the historic newspaper has survived today, it is still recognized as one of the most influential and acclaimed papers of the 20th century. 

Through Sage Collective’s vision, we are proud to contribute to the legacy of African American culture, community and success that is, and always has been, the heart and soul of Bronzeville.

The Chicago Bee front page from May 4, 1941
The Chicago Bee Building
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10.21.21 | Sage Advice

A Brief History of Bronzeville’s Music Scene

Bronzeville has been home to several legendary performers and iconic venues throughout the neighborhood’s history. In celebration of Bronzeville’s rich past and to mark progress on our King Drive properties, we’re taking a moment to reflect on the unique venues and legendary artists that once filled Bronzeville’s music scene. 

Regal Theatre, 1941, Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Significant Venues

As the century turned and more and more African Americans moved to Bronzeville from the rural South looking for brighter opportunities, several clubs and theatres emerged to meet entertainment needs. Several venues became community favorites and local treasures, including Grand Theater, Dreamland Café, The 708 Club, Pepper’s Lounge and the Vendome Theater. However, a number of these sites became well-known far beyond the boundaries of Bronzeville.

Widely recognized as one of the most important jazz clubs in the country during its prime, Sunset Cafe, also known as The Grand Terrace Cafe, was the city’s premier theatre from the 1920s to the 1940s. The club’s manager, Joe Glazer, invited several of the nation’s top jazz performers to entertain guests, including his client, Louis Armstrong. While the building experienced some remodels and reopenings, it became officially recognized as a landmark in 1998. Today, the venue, located at 315 East 35th Street, functions as an Ace Hardware. However, some of the original murals that filled the historic walls of the Sunset Cafe remain. 

At the time, Savoy Ballroom and the neighboring Regal Theater, located only a few blocks South of our King Drive properties, were credited as some of the first major stakes in establishing a new center of gravity for the African American community in Chicago. Savoy’s half-acre ballroom and the Regal Theater’s opulent auditorium offered hard-to-find performance space. Top jazz, blues and soul performers across the country, including Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder, left their mark on the famed clubs. The buildings were demolished in 1973 and are now home to the Harold Washington Cultural Center.

A band playing at the Savoy Ballroom, 1941, Courtesy of the Library of Congress

While the music scene thrived in Bronzeville for decades, the Great Depression brought unforeseen hardships to the community. Attendance in the top-tier theatres slipped for a time, but the 1940s brought back a resurgence in entertainment, with bebop music flourishing and nearly every big name in jazz returning. 

Uplifting Careers 

Throughout Bronzeville’s storied music history, multiple jazz, blues and soul legends visited the crowded theatres and clubs that filled the neighborhood. Music icons and various big band groups traveled the country to play the community’s numerous renowned venues. While many continued touring, countless others stayed in Bronzeville to expand their career and relish in the neighborhood’s rich culture.

As the jazz epicenter moved to Chicago from New Orleans in the late 1910s, so followed Joe Oliver — also known as King Oliver. Along with composing numerous celebrated works of music, Oliver played both individually on the cornet and in big bands along Chicago’s East 35th Street. He was also a pioneer in the field and mentored numerous young jazz artists throughout the city, including Louis Armstrong. After playing in Oliver’s band — the most influential jazz band in Chicago at the time — and earning a grand reputation competing in music contests throughout the neighborhood, Armstrong became recognized as perhaps the single most important jazz act during the genre’s heyday.

King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, 1923, Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Bronzeville native Nat “King” Cole was a legendary music personality and eventually became one of the neighborhood’s most well-known residents. Surrounded by a community rich with jazz and soul history, it didn’t take long for Cole to discover his passion for music. While living at 4023 South Vincennes Avenue, Cole took advantage of Bronzeville’s iconic venues and played at both the Savoy Ballroom and the Regal Theater before furthering his career around the United States. 

Through Sage Collective’s vision, we are proud to contribute to the legacy of African American culture, community and success that is, and always has been, the heart and soul of Bronzeville.

Regal Theatre, 1941, Courtesy of the Library of Congress
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07.22.21 | Sage Advice

Bronzeville Spotlight: Victory Monument

As we continue to develop our properties at 4108 S King Drive and 4112 S King Drive, we enjoy putting the spotlight on landmark locations in our historic Bronzeville neighborhood to celebrate and dig more into its rich history. Today, we’re exploring one of the city’s best-known and respected monuments, especially in Chicago’s Black communities, the Victory Monument. 

Chicago’s Victory Monument, which stands near the intersection of King Drive and East 35th Street, was built in 1927 in honor of the all-Black, Eighth Infantry Regiment of The Illinois National Guard, whose members served during WWI under the French. Created by the French American sculptor, Leonard Crunelle, the monument’s main structure was built in white granite with a bronze doughboy (common nickname for American soldiers during WWI) figure standing on top. That figure of the soldier was added almost ten years after the original construction.

There are three bronze panels around the sides of the monument, each representing elements of Black culture and history of Black soldiers through life-sized figures. The first panel, the Victory Panel, presents a cloaked female figure representing motherhood and holding a branch that symbolizes victory. The second panel, the Columbia Panel, displays another female figure with a helmet on her head holding a tablet engraved with a list of battles that Black soldiers fought in. The last panel, the African-American Soldier Panel, depicts a Black soldier from the Eighth Regiment with an eagle standing at his feet. A fourth bronze panel facing north holds the names of the 137 total members from the Eighth Infantry that lost their lives fighting in WWI. 

The monument was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986 and labeled a Chicago Landmark in 1998. The monument is also home to many annual celebrations and observances including its Memorial Day ceremony and the starting location of the historic, and largest Black parade in the world, the Bud Billiken Parade. 

Having been in place for almost 100 years, Victory Monument continues to illuminate and commemorate an important part of history, and is just one of the many special landmarks located in our historic Bronzeville neighborhood.

Photograph of Victory Monument in Bronzeville
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