There is an old adage that you can never go back home. You can and I did. However, you must travel there with an open heart, while embracing all the good memories that made it home in the first place. In my case, it was a lifetime of memories filled with adventures, love, family, pride and amazement. As a little girl, I set out to conquer my city. In my haste, my city conquered me.
With all their belongings in a 1948 burgundy Buick Sedan my young ma and pa were part of the migration of African Americans or coloreds, as we were called then, from points south of Illinois. My father and I were born in Texas, my mother born in North Carolina. The father was a WWII veteran. Prompted by a brother already finding success in the big old city, my father drove into Chicago filled with hope for change and a great big wedge of the success. I think because my parents came to the city with an open heart, ready to embrace the new adventure, the toddler in me was filled as well with the same sense of happy. The city of Chicago was already growing old then but it welcomed this new influx of young families; taking ownership of them.
I am old enough to remember a different time in the city of Chicago. Old enough to appreciate the changes she has endured. The fifties and the sixties Chicago of my childhood still held the scent of the thirties and forties, perhaps because many of that generation still walked her streets. They were contributors to her culture. Therefore, I set out with a purpose in this short visit to photograph places or signposts of events that etched my life. I began my journey with feelings that were a little bitter mixed with a ton of sweetness. I tend to look back on events of my life with rose-colored lenses. Occasionally I removed them to examine closer the changes that have “happened”. Imagine a tiny little girl with Mary Jane clad feet clicking along the streets of this old and magnificent city. That was I. My family’s first home was in neighborhood that bordered the University of Chicago campus near Hyde Park, one of the city’s oldest communities. The campus, museums and Art Institute all replicating Europe, Oxford, Cambridge and entrance was free to the public. They were my playgrounds on many Saturday afternoons. Even the downtown main branch library was created with Tiffany glass domes and marble staircases. There were nooks and crannies to sit in huge marble windowsills for younglings to sit and learn to read. There were many avenues for rich experiences.
The sultry warming tones of live jazz drifted in the air along the side streets of Old Town that still wore the remnants of horse drawn carriages. High sidewalks sported iron post designed to secure the reins of horses and cobbled stone and red brick paved streets were still narrow. The old Grant Park that curved along the downtown shoreline was always filled with people. Wide expanses of trees and grass were filled with baseball games during lunch and after work hours. It was designed with fore thought that little kids like me would play on monument steps and sit with high school friends ‘til the Chicago Police gently told them to go home when the parks closed. I returned as an experienced tourist to my home city of Chicago. My solitary walk around was fun filled and held a hint of enchantment.
For that reason, I have sat out to record visually a close inspection of the nook and crannies of this wonderful city. The bits are a mix of the old and new. Like other large and old urban environments, the passing of time has been ruthless on her charms. Yet the bones of what made Chicago great still remains. Looking to her rooftops and steeples, the observer can still experience the feelings of great “promise”. Her landmarks continue to mark spaces where millions of people began the story of their lives. Chicago is a city that is filled with memories. These are just a few of mine.