Chicago Black Social Culture Map Preserves Stories

Musician Larry Taylor remembers a time when blues music echoed from the clubs that used to sit on the now-vacant lots on Roosevelt Road.

“Right [on that corner] used to be a blues club right across the street,” recounted Taylor, a blues singer and drummer from the West Side, to more than a dozen people at the West Side Justice Center. Taylor pointed to the window in front of him that faced California Avenue. “And all from here running all the way back to Roosevelt Road they had music. You can run, you could move from one place to the next place, to the next place, to the next place. You could hear music all over this West Side.”

Stories like Taylor’s are what the Chicago Black Social Culture Map (CBSCM) hope to preserve. On September 7, CBSCM brought music personalities like Taylor, record store owner George Daniels and other musicians to explore the roots of blues and the development of house and dance music on the West Side, and to archive stories from community members.

CBSCM is a community-centered initiative that traces and preserves Chicago’s black social culture, with a focus on house music and dance, from the Great Migration to the early 21st century. The group consists of several organizations, including Honey Pot Performance, Actively Archiving and the Modern Dance Music Research and Archiving Foundation. The beginnings of the project were pieced together at “mapping parties” in 2014 where they would gather people, pin a map on a wall and ask attendees to stick post-its with notes on specific places that were relevant to black social culture. What resulted from that was a map of establishments, some still here and some long gone, based on memory and a trove of anecdotes from people who played in those places and moved in those spaces. After six “mapping parties,” CBSCM condensed the information they gathered into an online, interactive map, which they have been bringing to the community.

“It’s not documented, and if not us, who or when?” said Meida McNeal, the convener of CBSCM. “There have been a lot of official ways [black people have been cut off] … in terms of being able to fight for themselves or speak up for themselves … These creative spaces have been important places where black people resist, black people affirm their own humanity, where they convene together and find support and strength to keep going.”

The map is still growing. Although over 350 relevant sites have already been documented online, the group has been visiting different neighborhoods across the city to hold panel discussions, record oral histories and archive relevant memorabilia from community members. CBSCM hopes the map can become a teaching tool when it is completed.

“That’s what makes it rich is to, you know, get into the various neighborhoods where these spaces had been, where these culture producers are and have the memories and to, you know, uplift that,” McNeal said.

Sharon Hartshorn, one of the attendees of the archiving event, said she grew up on the West Side and is raising a family that listens to and plays blues music. But she didn’t know that the West Side used to be home to a thriving blues scene.

“[Learning this history] gives value to who I am and this part of the city that  I was raised in,” Hartshorn said. “Other people, you know, saw things and felt things and did things and acknowledged things that were happening to me when I grew up with my family that I just, you know, kind of took for granted. But here these people are, who today see the value in it and want to save it and preserve it and share it… I just think that’s great.”

CBSCM will hold its last archiving day for the year from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19, at the Center on Halsted, 3656 N. Halsted.

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