The Future's Past

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The Future’s Past. Through November 7, 2011.

Opening Reception, October 7, 2011. (Image Credit: Andrew Roddewig of Sixty Inches From Center.)

Exhibition and Select Installations Up Until November 7, 2011. Blanc Gallery is open by appointment only.  Call 773.952.4394 to make an appointment.


All events take place at Blanc Gallery, located at 4445 South King Drive, unless stated otherwise.

October 7 | 6-9pm
Opening Reception and Trolley Tour at Blanc Gallery

October 14 | 6-9pm
Bronzeville Art District Trolley Tour, starting at Gallery Guichard (3521 South King Drive)

October 29 | 3-9pm
The Future’s Past Artist Talk & Gallery as Studio with Krista Franklin, Stephen Flemister and Amanda Williams.  Artists will be building on their current pieces in the gallery from 3pm to about 5pm, then a discussion will start around the ideas of Gallery As Studio and what it means to exhibit unfinished, in progress works in a gallery setting.

About The Future’s Past

The Future’s Past is a pilot curatorial project executed with the help of the Black Metropolis Research Consortium (BMRC) Fellowship in Chicago, Illinois.  It combines new technology and new media to bring life to the history of Chicago’s Black Metropolis which is waiting to be found in the archives of the member institutions of the BMRC, formal and informal historians and various other resources. For this project, materials from these sources will be pulled and curated into an exhibition at Blanc Gallery and five image installations in windows based on significant art and culture locations along South Parkway, which is now King Drive, between 35th Street and 47th Street. In addition to the site-specific installations, Chicago artists Stephen Flemister, Krista Franklin, Emmanuel Pratt and Amanda Williams have created visual responses to the premise of the project which are exhibited at Blanc Gallery. Coinciding with the installations, new technology in the form of QR Codes and this website component with additional information will make other pieces of the history accessible to the public. This technology pulls together personal stories, archive text and materials used in the installations and exhibition.

The purpose of this project is to give the youth and modern community a glimpse into the history within the streets, buildings and spaces in which they live their everyday lives through a language they can understand–technology. Doing this will simultaneously introduce the various sources of information to a new audience, showcase the rich history found in them and promote the use of archives and contact with the people who hold the stories.

Note: If you own a smartphone (iPhone, Android, etc.), you are highly encouraged to download a barcode scanner before coming to the show in order to take full advantage of the interaction with the installations and exhibition.

For more information or to schedule a walk-through of the exhibition for yourself, class or other group, contact the curator, Tempestt Hazel, at

Johnson Publishing Company

Supreme Liberty Life Insurance Company circa 1937 at the corner of 35th and South Parkway, now Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. (Image Credit: IDOT Chicago Traffic Photograph Collection, IDOT_2f_176_5655_37, University of Illinois at Chicago Library, CARLI Digital Collections.)

“The importance of hard work and persistence was great advice that [John H. Johnson] gave me. He also talked about the importance of having vision. He often said that a lot of times young people get sidetracked because they have these big dreams. He encouraged young people to start with a smaller dream. Dream small dreams because each smaller dream you can build more and more on. He would say, ‘I did not start out dreaming that all of this was going to happen. I just wanted to start with my first magazine and build from there…'” – Lydia Davis Eady, former Vice President of Marketing at Johnson Publishing Company

Ebony and Jet were born here.

3501 South Parkway, the original location of the Supreme Life Insurance Company, is where John H. Johnson produced his first publications including Negro Digest in 1942. Modeled off of exclusive publications like Reader’s Digest, Negro Digest was Johnson’s first magazine and was later renamed Black World to reflect the changing times.  Negro Digest was one of the early and most successful pocket magazines with guest writings of several history-changing figures. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Gwendolyn Brooks and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt each contributed words to its pages. Johnson Publishing Company was born in a small, closet-like office space in this building generously offered to him by Earl B. Dickerson, future president of the Supreme Life Insurance Company. Johnson’s future wife Eunice Walker Johnson acted as secretary at the time. From his early days as an employee of the Supreme Life Insurance Company to building the Johnson Publishing Company empire, John H. Johnson became one of the leading figures in business and community service.

About the building.

Known to some as one of the first spaces for Johnson Publishing Company and Associated Negro Press, this building started off as the headquarters of one of the earliest and most successful African-American owned and operated insurance companies in the north. Founded in 1919 by Frank L. Gillespie as the Liberty Life Insurance Company, in 1921 the firm moved into the second floor. Liberty Life bought the entire structure in 1924 and in 1929 it merged with two other firms and formed the Supreme Life Insurance Company of America. Being one of the few major businesses of Black Metropolis to survive the Great Depression, in 1950 the company modernized the building using porcelain metal panels to cover the initial design. Half a century later, after a campaign to save the building, original classic facade was restored.

Today you can find the Bronzeville Visitor Information Center which is located in the old offices of the Supreme Life Insurance Company, Teague & Knight Associates, Black Star ProjectSeaway Bank and Trust Company and Rick’s Munchies maintaining the former glory of the building.

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Lutrelle and Jorja English Palmer Mansion

Lutrelle and Jorja English Palmer Mansion, 2011. (Image Credit: Tempestt Hazel.)

“It’s enough to make a Negro turn Black!” – Lu Palmer

The Panther with a Pen.

Since 1976, 3656 King Drive was the home of community activist couple Lutrelle “Lu” Palmer and Jorja English Palmer until Lu passed in 2004. After moving to Chicago in 1950 he started writing for the Chicago Defender, which is where he became known as ‘the panther with a pen’. Despite a heavy amount of racism, Palmer was also a columnist for the Chicago Daily News where he would take stories from other publications and remix them to be published for the newspaper. Palmer’s written voice and spoken voice reached city-wide. He not only reported for the Chicago Defender and Chicago Daily News, but he also produced columns, edited or broadcasted with the Chicago Courier, the Tri-State Defender, the WVON’s radio shows “Lu’s Notebook” and “On Target”, and his self-published Black X-Press Info Paper. He used his pen as a weapon in a time when news wasn’t simply reporting the facts, it was transforming the political landscape. Simultaneously he worked as an activist in Chicago’s Black communities. The Palmers were the founders of the Chicago Black United Communities (CBUC) in 1980 and the Black Independent Political Organization (BIPO) in 1984. Both were instrumental in the election of Mayor Harold Washington, the first Black mayor of a racially segmented Chicago, in 1983.

About the mansion.

This mansion was built between 1885 and 1888 for Justice D. Harry Hammer by architect William Wilson Clay. Since 1980 the small building directly behind the mansion has been used for the organizations Chicago Black United Communities (CBUC) and the Black Independent Political Organization (BIPO), which are still very active to this day.

Jorja and Lu Palmer at CBUC celebrating Lu's 65th Birthday. (Image Courtesy of Eddie Read Collection.)

Plaque at the Chicago Black United Communities (CBUC) and the Black Independent Political Organization (BIPO), 2011. (Image Credit: Tempestt Hazel.)

Header for the newsletter Lu's Socio-Political Notebook, 1986. (Image Courtesy of the Eddie Read Collection.)

A detail of one of the transcriptions of Lu Palmer's radio show, Lu's Notebook, 1979. (Image Courtesy of the Eddie Read Collection.)

Original and present-day Chicago Black United Communities (CBUC) and the Black Independent Political Organization (BIPO) building behind the Palmer Mansion, 2011. (Image Credit: Tempestt Hazel.)

Metropolitan Funeral System Association

4445 South Parkway | New Chicago Defender Building, Former Metropolitan Funeral System Association, 2011. (Image Credit: Tempestt Hazel.)

The Bud Billiken Parade, The Great Migration and over 100 years of history. 

Originally built as the home of the Metropolitan Funeral System Association and the birthplace of the Parkway Ballroom, today 4445 South King Drive houses the legendary Chicago Defender. Founded in 1905 by Robert Sengstacke Abbott, the Chicago Defender went from an unknown weekly to one of the most widely circulated African American newspapers in the United States in only a matter of years. With its significant nation-wide readership, it is thought that through the articles, classified ads and tales of opportunity in the north for Blacks, the Chicago Defender was a key stimulus for the Great Migration of Black people from the rural south to Chicago’s metropolitan north in the early twentieth century. The Defender was also a platform for some of the most renowned Chicago writers of the time. The writings of Ethel Payne and Langston Hughes often appeared in the pages of the newspaper. The Chicago Defender is not the only major accomplishment of Abbott to stand the test of time. Abbott is also responsible for establishing the Bud Billiken Club for children, from which came the annual Bud Billiken Parade in 1929, one of the oldest and largest parades in the country that makes its way down this stretch of King Drive every August. In 1940 after Robert Sengstacke Abbott’s death, his nephew, John H. Sengstacke took over the paper, putting his own mark on Black journalism and continuing the legacy that his uncle started. The Defender has over 100 years of history behind it and is still in circulation today.

About the Building.

Built between 1939 and 1940 at the decline of the Great Depression, the building today that houses the Chicago Defender and Blanc Gallery was the third location of the burial insurance company Metropolitan Funeral System Association. Established in 1925, the Metropolitan Funeral System Association was the brainchild of local entrepreneur Otto Stevenson in partnership with Daniel McKee Jackson, one of the most established undertakers in Chicago’s Black Metropolis of the time. Soon after it was established, Stevenson sold the association to Jackson, who in turn made self-made businessman Robert Alexander Cole its manager. Cole later purchased the company for $500, but kept Jackson as the funeral director. Under Cole’s leadership it provided many jobs to Black Chicago before, during and after the Great Depression. When the company moved to this location, this corner became known as a premier showplace for Black performers with the Parkway Ballroom quickly becoming a shining jewel of the community. Before the Regal Theater and the Savoy Ballroom there was the Parkway Ballroom, which was the center of Black performance and social life in the Black Metropolis.

Metropolitan Funeral System Association Advertisement, c. 1928. (Image Credit: Chicago Public Library.)

Robert S. Abbott Ave., honorary street sign at 35th and Indiana Ave. (Image Credit: Tempestt Hazel.)

Robert S. Abbott historic marker. (Image courtesy of Bronzeville Visitor Information Center.)

The Regal Theater

The Regal Theater, 1955. (Image Credit: Charles A. Sengstock Jr.)

“On February 4, 1927 the Regal Theater opened at 47th and South Park Way in the South Center Building next door to the Savoy Ballroom. Soon 47th and South Park had replaced 35th and State as the main drag. It became the downtown of the Black Community, the area that became known as Bronzeville. …In 1942 I went to see Jay McShann and his orchestra at the Regal Theater. The emcee (I can’t remember if it was Jay McShann) said, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, Walter Borwn will song one of the band’s latest recordings.’ The band began playing the intro. The next thing I heard was an alto saxophone at the microphone. He played 12 bars of blues like nothing I had ever heard before. It ran chills all through my body. I didn’t learn until later that it was Charlie Parker.” Charles Walton, Charles Walton Papers – 1996/05

A mandatory stop for musical greats.

When it officially opened along side the Savoy Ballroom at the southeast corner of 47th Street and South Parkway in 1928, The Regal Theater saw long lines of people waiting excitedly in the cold rain. The Regal was a visual treasure inside and out. It instantly became a significant social center for the community within the Black Metropolis. It was a welcoming motion-picture theater for Black patrons, employees and filmmakers at a time when the city wasn’t very welcoming to them. The Regal provided a stage for musicians such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Fess Williams, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Lena Horne who were among the famous performers to grace the stage. The theater also served as a venue for community organizations such as the Bud Billiken Club and Good Fellows Club to hold events and meetings.

About the Building.

Planning for the Regal Theater began in 1926. Completed in 1928, the theater was designed by architects Alexander L. Levy and William J. Klein. Pulling details from Spanish, Moorish, and Eastern architecture, Levy and Klein created the Regal Theater to stand apart from any venue of its kind at the time.  About the opening of the theater the Chicago Defender wrote, “The interior of the Regal, presents one of the most beautiful and amazing spectacles ever exhibited in a public institution; a triumph of imaginative designing that carries the theatergoers into an Oriental garden on a moonlight night. Overhead is stretched a mammoth polychrome canopy supported by huge poles of gold and fringed with a horizon-like vista of blue sky. Over the giant stage is the outline of an entrance to an Oriental pagoda, completing an effect that is almost enchanting in its romantic charm.”

After being demolished in 1973, the space on 47th Street remained vacant for over twenty years. As way to bring new life to the location’s former glory, construction of the Lou Rawls Theater Cultural Center began. Completed in 2004 and standing where the Regal Theater stood over thirty years before, the officially named Harold Washington Cultural Center occupies the theater’s historic land.

Ray Charles at the Regal Theater, poster from the Chicago Blues Museum. (Image courtesy of Bronzeville Visitor Information Center, photo by Tempestt Hazel.)

Page detail from Dizzy Gillespie The Bebop Years 1937 to 1952 By Ken Vail, Scarecrow Press 2003.

The Savoy Ballroom

The Savoy Ballroom. (Image Credit: Chuckman's Collection, Chicago Postcards Vol. 7.)

“Never before have Chicagoans seen anything quite as lavish as the Savoy ballroom. Famous artists have transformed the building into a veritable paradise, each section more beautiful than the other. The feeling of luxury and comfort one gets upon entering is quite ideal and homelike, and the desire to stay and dance and look on is generated with each moment of your visit. Every modern convenience is provided. In addition to a house physician and a professional nurse for illness or accident, there is an ideal lounging room for ladies and gentlemen, luxuriously furnished, a boudoir room for milady’s makeup convenience, an ultra modern checking room which accommodates 6,000 hats and cotas individually hung so that if one comes in with his or her coat crushed or wrinkled it is in better condition when leaving.” – Chicago Defender, 1927

A hard act to follow. 

Everyday for thirteen years music from two bands could be heard coming from the Savoy Ballroom since its opening on November 23, 1927 on the southeast corner of South Parkway. I. Jay Faggen was the key promoter, bringing the wealth of his experience from New York ballrooms including Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom. The Gala Ball for the Savoy’s Thanksgiving opening attracted hundreds of community leaders, theater celebrities, star musicians, and their Chicago fan base. To help celebrate the grand opening, Sammy Stewart, Charles Elgar, Clarence Black and their orchestras performed along with famous comedians Moss and Frye. In addition to its life as a presenting venue, the building served as a roller skating rink, boxing arena and basketball court for the Savoy Big Five. The ballroom also housed the benefits and events of local organizations. The South Side Chamber of Commerce, the black-owned Binga State Bank and the Chicago Defender all held events there in the 1920s and 1930s. It was also a meeting place for announcements and to discuss pressing matters that concerned the people of the area.

About the Building.

The Savoy Ballroom, or Lady Savoy as it is sometimes called, was the first in a three part real estate development project by Harry M. and Louis Eglestein. The other two parts included The Regal Theater and the South Center Department Store, which both opened shortly after in 1928. Catering to Chicago’s Black social society, the building’s magnificent dance hall could hold over 4,000 people. Like its neighboring buildings, the Savoy was demolished to make way for new developments.

Poster from the Chicago Blues Museum Archives, Charlie Parker at the Savoy Ballroom. (Image courtesy of the Bronzeville Visitor Information Center.)

Logo from a Savoy Ballroom advertisement, 1928. (Image Courtesy of Chicago Public Library.)

Poster from the Chicago Blues Museum archives. (Image courtesy of Bronzeville Visitor Information Center.)