A glimpse of Chicago childhood inspired by Gwendolyn Brooks


Two girls play double Dutch outside the Cabrini-Green housing development in July of 1984. - SUN-TIMES NEGATIVE COLLECTION
  • Sun-Times Negative Collection
  • Two girls play double Dutch outside the Cabrini-Green housing development in July of 1984.

Editor's note: The Reader is teaming up with Blvck Vrchives founder Renata Cherlise to create multimedia narratives of black life in Chicago. Cherlise's site offers "a curated visual journey through history."

Although former Illinois poet laureate Gwendolyn Brooks was born in Topeka, Kansas in 1917, she came of age in Chicago. She attended Hyde Park High School (now known as Hyde Park Career Academy) and later married Henry Blakely. They raised a family in the house at 7428 S. Evans Avenue, in the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood of Chicago’s south side. It was between the births of her two children, Henry Jr. in 1940 and Nora in 1951, that Brooks published her first collection of poetry, taking anyone willing to go for a ride down a Street in Bronzeville (1945).

“I wrote about what I saw and heard in the street,” Brooks said in a 1965 interview. “I lived in a small, second floor apartment at the corner, and I could look first on one side and then on the other. There was my material.”

In 1968's In the Mecca, Brooks highlight the horrors, triumphs, and tragedies of a rundown apartment building, while also offering historical context for the turbulent 1960s and Civil Rights Movement. Inspired by Brooks's poem, this audio slideshow uses Sun-Times archival photos that depict the hope of children living in some of Chicago's most underserved neighborhoods from the 1960s through the 1990s.

Photo credits: Rich Hein, Bob Black, John Friedah, John H. White, Al Poldgorski, Sun-Times Negative Collection

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