Rube Foster and Schorling’s Park

South Side Park (later, Schorling Park) stood at 39th and Wentworth Ave.

South Side Park (later, Schorling Park) stood at 39th and Wentworth Ave.

Warm weather has arrived to stay (at least for a few months) and baseball season is heating up.  Much has been made in Chicago news recently about Wrigley Field and the commemorations for its 100th anniversary.  The ballpark began as home to the Chicago Whales, a Federal League team, in 1914 and it was originally called Weeghman Field for its owner, Charles Weeghman.  All of this has been covered, however, in honor of Wrigley Field’s centennial celebrations.

What I want to look into with today’s post is a relatively forgotten ballpark that housed many championship games on Chicago’s other side of town: South Side Park (and later Schorling Park).  This park stood at 39th and Wentworth Avenue from 1893 until it burned down on Christmas Day in 1940.  It was called South Side Park (and sometimes 39th Street Grounds) from 1900 to 1910 while the Chicago White Sox (then known as the White Stockings) played there.  According to Paula Lupkin of the Encyclopedia of Chicago, “The relocation of the White Stockings to Comiskey Park enabled Chicago’s Negro League team, the American Giants, to purchase their old facility, South Side Park, located at 39th and Wentworth. Rechristened Schorling Park, it stood until 1940 when it was destroyed by fire.”  Shortly after baseball began integration, the Negro League started to fade and was gone by the 1950s.

Today, near the spot you can find a Chicago Tribute marker (as seen in the photograph above) which commemorates Andrew “Rube” Foster.  We’ll look at him more in a moment.

No other ballpark went up on the 39th and Wentworth Avenue site after the fire in 1940.  What intrigues me, however, isn’t the park’s end, so much as its beginning in 1893.  As every Chicago history fan knows, 1893 was the year of the World’s Columbian Exposition.  In the excellent book When Chicago Ruled Baseball: The Cubs-White Sox World Series of 1906 author, Bernard A. Weisberger explains, “The park had opened in 1893 in time for the world’s fair for a professional cricket team known as the Chicago Wanderers, who played and drew their audience from recent immigrants from the British Isles.  There were not enough of these to make the Wanderers a success, however, and by 1900 the grounds were no more than a bumpy abandoned lot strewn with junk.  Yet Comiskey spotted the place as a choice location,” (62).  The thing I love about Weisberger’s book is that he takes plain facts like the dimensions of a ballpark and puts them fluidly into context.  Look at his description of South Side Park:

In 1900, Comiskey’s first task after cleaning up, leveling and seeding the deserted cricket field (a job in which he sometimes joined with his own hands) was to create seating.  The First National Bank of Chicago lent him the money for an enclosed wooden grandstand extending from first to third base, the roof supported by whitewashed posts.  The dimensions made it a tough place for right-handed hitters: the left-field foul line was 355 feet long, left center was 400 feet from home plate, and center field was a deep 450 feet (but only when not accommodating standees).  The distance to the right-field fence seems to have disappeared from available records, but given the fact that the White Sox’ regular-season lineup featured four left-handed hitters (and one who batted from either side of the plate), it seems likely that it was at least as short as and possibly shorter than the left-field line. 63-64.

The White Sox played in South Side Park until 1910 when Comiskey’s new park opened its gates on July 1st of 1910.  Before leaving however the White Sox would make a lot of memories there such as winning Chicago’s only crosstown World Series in 1906.  A fact that I need to research more involves whether or not Comiskey had owned or was leasing the land for South Side Park.  One of the most recent biographies on his life, Turning the Black Sox White: The Misunderstood Legacy of Charles A. Comiskey states, “…Comiskey was a man who treasured tradition and familiarity.  That being said, he initially discussed terms with the owner of the current South Side Park at 39th and Wentworth Avenue to buy or lease the land for twenty years.  A mutually satisfactory agreement could not be reached, so Comiskey moved on,” (171).  Another text, however, titled Chicago’s New Negroes: Modernity, The Great Migration, and Black Urban Life examines the uneasy transition from South Side Park to Schorling Park.  That author, Davarian L. Baldwin, states, “The major point of reported contention among race leaders was Foster’s partnership with John Schorling, a white saloon keeper and son-in-law of Charles Comiskey, who leased the old White Sox stadium on 39th and Wentworth to the American Giants,” (212).  Regardless of who owned it, after the White Sox moved out, Rube Foster and his Chicago American Giants moved in.

The city’s tribute marker remembers Foster and explains, “Andrew ‘Rube’ Foster dominated the Negro Leagues as a pitcher, manager, owner, and league organizer.”  Foster came to Chicago in 1906 to play for and manage the Leland Giants but, “In 1911, in partnership with white saloonkeeper John Schorling he founded the Chicago American Giants, which became one of the greatest teams in black baseball history…He led his team to Negro League championships in 1914, 1915, and 1917.”  In many ways Foster was the heart of the league and an excellent promoter of the sport.  In his book Chicago’s New Negroes Baldwin argues, “For the next decade, Foster’s Giants were among the most dominant black nine, and some would say baseball team more generally.  Foster’s disciplining and ‘scientific’ style of speedy play focused on pitching, targeted hitting, base stealing, and signaling,” (213).  Foster entered the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981, but I feel his legacy sadly needs greater prominence and emphasis in Chicago.

You can find his tribute marker on the northwest corner of 39th/Pershing and Wentworth Avenue just a few block south of where the White Sox currently play.  After games many baseball fans drive past it and the very spot where South Side/Schorling Park once stood when they attempt to get back onto the Dan Ryan expressway.

 

Rube Foster Tribute Marker

Rube Foster Tribute Marker

 

Resources and Citations

Baldwin, Davarian L.  Chicago’s New Negroes: Modernity, The Great Migration, and Black Urban Life.  2007.

Hornbaker, Tim.  Turning the Black Sox White: The Misunderstood Legacy of Charles A. Comiskey. 2014

Weisberger, Bernard A.  When Chicago Ruled Baseball: The Cubs-White Sox  World Series of 1906. 2006.

 

White Sox timeline
http://chicago.whitesox.mlb.com/cws/history/timeline01.jsp

Paul Healey’s Project Ballpark

The Great Migration and Bronzeville (part 3)

Bronzeville Map

Welcome!

Olivet Baptist

North side of Olivet Baptist

In my last post about Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood and the Great Migration we left off at Allison Saar’s “Monument to Great Northern Migration” on S. Martin Luther King Drive and Eastgate Place. The next point of interest, the historic Olivet Baptist Church, sits only five blocks south on King Drive at 31st.   If you’re interested in visiting, the specific street address is 3101 S. King Drive and their website address is olivetbaptistchurchchicago.org.  Sadly, I don’t believe one can currently see the inside.  It appears there may be restoration work going on.  The limestone building itself was constructed back in 1875 and according to Olivet’s website, “In 1917, OBC purchased its current home, First Baptist Church, then located at 31st street and South Parkway.”  In fact the Church had several different locations before 1917 but has been existence as a church community going all the way back to 1850.  Their website explains, “It was started on April 6,1850 as Xenia Baptist in the home of one its members.  In 1853, Xenia Baptist was incorporated as Zoar Baptist Church. A few years later, in 1861, Zoar Baptist Church merged with Zion Baptist and became OBC.”  Like Quinn Chapel A.M.E. which I mentioned in my last post (part 2), Olivet Baptist was an important part of the Great Migration in Chicago.  In her non-fiction novel, Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson examines how Northern churches grew due to the Great Migration and she cites Olivet Baptist as an example saying, “The city’s Olivet Baptist Church got 5,000 new members in the first three years of the Migration, making it one of the largest Baptist churches and one of the first megachurches in the country,” (288).  Those numbers alone give you a sense of how many people were flowing north to Chicago all at once.

Burroughs

On the sidewalks around Olivet Baptist and on the median of King Drive sit several more of Geraldine McCullough’s Bronzeville Walk of Fame plaques.  Near Olivet Baptist the plaques remember Corneal Davis 1900-1995 “Elected State Representative 1943-1979” and Dr. Joseph H. Jackson 1900-1990 “President [of] National Baptist Convention.”  I’ve included a photograph of Margaret Burroughs’ marker which reads 1917-     “Artist[,] Founded DuSable Museum of African American History 1961.”  Regrettably, her plaque needs updating because Mrs. Burroughs passed in 2010.  Her obituary from the Chicago Tribune lists several organizations she helped found in addition to the DuSable Museum such as the South Side Community Art Center and the National Conference of African-American Artists.  On top of those accomplishments, she taught at DuSable High School for over two decades as well as at Kennedy-King College.  Use the link to read the full Tribune article by Kristen Schorsch, here.

MLK Library

Entrance to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library

After appreciating the Bronzeville Walk of Fame markers around Olivet Baptist Church you should continue to head south on Martin Luther King Drive.  Just before you reach 35th street you’ll encounter another cluster of Walk of Fame markers outside of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Branch Library.  The Chicago Public Library’s website explains, “In September 1969, South Parkway Branch and South Parkway Boulevard were renamed to honor the memory of civil rights leader Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”  The Bronzeville Walk of Fame plaques here sit together in a large diamond just outside the library’s main entrance.  The grouping of markers has a specific literary theme appropriate for a library.  This collection contains a plaque for Lorraine Hansberry 1930-1965 “Author & Playwright” who famously wrote the oft-adapted play, A Raisin in the Sun.  With her plaque sits another writer, Richard Wright 1908-1960 who the plaque lists simply as “Author.”  Wright actually lived in Bronzeville for several years at 3743 S. Indiana.  A future post on Bronzeville will have more about his home and time in Bronzeville.

Wright plaque

The other two figures included outside the library are Fannie Barrier Williams and Vivian Harsh.  Williams’ marker commemorates an extraordinarily long life and career, 1855-1960 “Lecturer, Journalist, Educator, 1st Black Member Library Board of Chicago.”  Vivian Harsh’s plaque reads, 1890-1960 “1st Black Librarian Chicago Public Library, Founder Special Negro Collection.”  Outside of another library further south in Bronzeville, the George Cleveland Hall branch at 4801 S. Michigan, a Chicago Tribute Marker for Harsh at that branch remembers her life’s labor.  The Tribute Marker says Harsh, “…devoted her life to building one of the most important research collections on African-American history and literature in the country.  The first black librarian in the Chicago Public Library system, she was appointed head librarian of the George Cleveland Hall Branch when it opened here in 1932.”  A future post on Bronzeville will also include more about Harsh, the Hall library, and Hall himself.

Bronzeville Map

Bronzeville Map

After viewing the plaques outside the library, head east across the street to the median on Martin Luther King Drive.  A large sign stands there explaining the history of Chicago’s boulevards such as the one you’d be standing on if you are reading that sign.  “The longest boulevard segment is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., (4.5 miles)” reads the sign.  This boulevard sign also lists several of the monuments along the boulevards such as Lorado Taft’s Fountain of Time.  Take a moment to navigate over the bushes around this sign to see its back (which faces north.)  You’ll find a good summary of Bronzeville history there along with some historical black and white photographs of the neighborhood.

A few steps south of the Boulevards sign you’ll find a 14 foot by 5 foot map of historic Bronzeville cast in bronze and inlaid in the ground.  It was installed in 1996 by sculptor and photographer Gregg LeFevre.  LeFevre has done several similar public art maps for other cities.  You can see some other examples of his public sculptures through Andrews/LeFevere Studios, here.

Near the bottom of the map it says, “Depicted here are some to the geographic, cultural and historical features of this area – the ‘Black Metropolis’ of Chicago.”  The bronze Bronzeville map features Migration sites I’ve discussed in this blog already such as the Illinois Central Railroad station, Quinn Chapel, Olivet Baptist Church and also many places I haven’t had the opportunity to discuss yet such as the Liberty Life Insurance Company,  Ida B. Wells’ home, the Sunset Café, Overton Hygienic building and too many more to count.  In addition to those sites you can find other historical locations on the map that occurred before the Great Migration such as Camp Douglas and the Swift Mansion.  Several spots on the map highlight Bronzeville’s cultural legacies like Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem, “We Real Cool” or the cover of Richard Wright’s novel, Native Son.  The map also shows where the Robert Taylor homes once stood.

If you look at the close-up of the map that I’ve included you can see a giant “YOU ARE HERE” arrow.  To left of the arrow you can see the King library branch which I mentioned above.  To the left of the arrow sits a large building labeled “Liberty Life Insurance” and just to the south is the “Victory Monument” our next two locations.

Bronzeville Map Close-Up

Bronzeville Map Close-Up

The Liberty Life Insurance building (later called Supreme Life Insurance) sits at the southeast corner of the intersection of 35th and MLK Drive.  Its actual address is 3501 S. Martin Luther King Drive.  According to the City of Chicago’s landmarks page it was built in 1921 and designated as a city landmark on September 8, 1998 along with 9 other structures in this Bronzeville Historic district.  Currently the building is most importantly used as the Bronzeville Visitor Information Center which provides tours of the area and acts as a cornerstone for the neighborhood.  You’ll find a gift shop, an exhibit gallery and probably a friendly docent from the neighborhood to answer questions about what to see next.

Supreme Life Insurance

Liberty Life Insurance

In his 2011 book, The Rise of Chicago’s Black Metropolis: 1920-1929, professor and historian Christopher Robert Reed explains why an insurance company was so important to the community back then, “The company was the brainchild of Arkansas-born Frank L. Gillespie, who had arrived in Chicago around 1889; Gillespie conceived of the idea of a black-owned and operated insurance firm and thought the time was ripe to bring it to fruition in 1919… In mid-1921, the Liberty Life Insurance Company opened its doors and began to sell life insurance to those who heretofore had not been considered insurable by white companies.  Insurance premiums were invested back into the community from which they came and each dollar in the Black Belt began to have ‘double duty,’ ”
(93-94).  It’s good to see an almost 100 year old building still invested in community’s development and growth.

World War I Doughboy MonumentWhile talking about the Liberty Life Insurance building above, I mentioned that it was one of 9 structures that had attained landmark status as part of the Bronzeville historic district.  Another one of those is the Victory Monument that stands on the median directly across the street from the Supreme/Liberty Life Insurance building.  This cylindrical monument was erected in 1929, “In memory of the heroes of the old 8th Infantry, Illinois National Guard, redesignated during the World War as the 370th Infantry of the United States Army who died in France.”  The inscription on the monument then goes on to list the names of the 137 members of the 8th Infantry who died during World War I.  The monument consists of a granite column with three bronze panels that feature a figure, one bronze panel with a commemorative inscription listing the soldiers’ names and finally a bronze statue of a WWI doughboy on top.  Under the eagle’s talons on the north facing panel you’ll find the artist’s signature, L. Crunelle.  For more specific information about the monument and its details go to the Historical Marker database website which states that this Victory Monument was, “The first state-sponsored memorial to Afro-American veterans of World War I…”

Even though he sits far atop the column, the doughboy on top has some incredible detail.  Click on the close-up photograph of the doughboy that I’ve provided to enlarge the image and see the intense detail of his face, uniform and bayonet.

Around the base of the Victory Monument sits several more Bronzeville
Hall of Fame plaques.  Close by you will find one marker remembering Lt.
George R. Giles c. 1895-1920 “World War I Hero.”  Giles Avenue wasDoughboy Close-Up
named after Lieutenant Giles who died in World War I according to Streetwise Chicago: A History of Chicago Street Names.  The 8th Regiment Armory, which is another historical structure from the list of 9, stands on Giles Avenue.  (A brief sidenote: the plaque lists a Lt. George R. Giles, but most sources I’ve read refer to him as Lt. George L. Giles.)

Another marker near the Victory Monument and Supreme/Liberty Life Insurance Company is for Truman Gibson Sr. 1882-1972 “Founded Supreme Liberty Life Insurance Co.” and also Truman Gibson Jr.  1912-      “Civilian Aide to the Secretary of War, 1940-1945.”  It appears this plaque also needs updating because Mr. Gibson Jr. passed in 2005.

Ida LandmarkThe last marker near the Victory Monument is for Major Robert H. Lawrence, Jr. 1935-1967 “1st Black Astronaut.”  I located an article from the Defense Department’s website recognizing Major Lawrence of the Air Force as an astronaut.  He died at Edwards Air Force base in a F-104 Starfighter crash.  This article from back in 1998 explains, “At the time Lawrence died, the Air Force and NASA programs were not connected. Manned Orbiting Laboratory Program participants were not considered astronauts even though they had the same skills and the two programs eventually merged. The Air Force reviewed Lawrence’s case after a request from the Astronauts Memorial Foundation on Jan. 2, 1997, and decided to raise his status to ‘astronaut.’ ”  The thing I appreciate about the Bronzeville Walk of Fame markers are these stories about heroes like Giles and Lawrence that I’ve never had the chance to learn about.

After studying the Victory Monument and the Bronzeville Walk of Fame plaques around it, cross back over to the west side of the street and head about half a block south to 3624 S. Martin Luther King Drive.  There you’ll find the home of Ida B. Wells-Barnett and her husband, Ferdinand Barnett.  The Chicago Tribute marker outside her home describes Wells-Barnett as, “An advocate for civil rights, woman’s suffrage and economic justice, her anti-lynching campaign stirred the nation…”  It goes on to explain her Chicago ties explaining, “In 1893, Wells came to Chicago to report on the lack of African American representation at the World’s Columbian Exposition.  She moved here and in 1895 married Ferdinand Lee Barnett, founder of Chicago’s first black newspaper, the Conservator.  That same year, she published A Red Record, the first statistical report on lynching…” Many of the original homes of important Bronzeville figures have been torn down or fallen into disrepair, but this home is still beautiful.  If you have the opportunity, I suggest that you also take a trip to the Chicago History Museum at North and Clark Avenues.  On the second floor of that museum in an exhibit titled The Crossroads of America you’ll see a bronze statue of Ida B. handing out pamphlets advocating for more African-Americans at the 1893 World’s Fair.

Ida HomeThe next site I’d like to discuss is the Sunset Café only about a block away from the Ida B. Wells home, but I’ll save that for a future blog.  I intended for my Bronzeville series to be only 3 parts long, but there’s such a wealth of history in this neighborhood and I’ve taken so many photographs that I intend to share more in the near future.

I need to focus on a reader request about a famous Irish sculptor and some of his famous statues for my next post in January.  Hopefully you are following this site through Twitter and Instagram where I put out updates about Chicago sports, books, beers, tours, authors, history, and more books.  If you have any questions or suggestions for future blog topics feel free to reach out to me through Gmail, Twitter, or Instagram.

Thank you for reading!

The Great Migration and Bronzeville (part 1)

A Bench in Bronzeville

A Bench in Bronzeville

In my last post I discussed Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration and her appearance at Harold Washington Library for One Book, One Chicago.  Wilkerson’s book follows three African-Americans who came up north to escape the Jim Crow South.  One of the individuals in the book, Ida Mae Gladney, eventually settled here in Chicago.  With today’s post and my next one I hope to track one possible route that southern migrants like Ida Mae  would’ve taken when coming into Chicago.  Several historical sites and institutions not only exist, but still function in their original capacity such as Quinn Chapel or the Chicago Urban League.  There are numerous places, so keep in mind that what I’ll be including here is only a smattering of possible sites to see.  I’ve collected these points and images to create a driving tour demarking the migrants’ arrival in Chicago to life in Bronzeville.  Today I am focusing on only one site.

Where Central Station once stood until 1974

Where Central Station once stood until 1974

Take a moment and look at the photograph to the right.  Why did I share a picture of a ridiculously pricey South Loop condo?  That is where our first stop on the Great Migration trail to Chicago once existed.  This is where Central Station stood.  It was a depot for many train lines, one of which was the Illinois Central which brought thousands of African-Americans up to Chicago during the waves of the Great Migration.  For migrants coming to Chicago, this is where they stepped off the train.  Sadly, no official City of Chicago marker exists (to the best of my knowledge and searching) to commemorate this station.  We do, however, have a Mississippi Blues Trail Marker that celebrates this historic site.  In the photograph with the condo you can see it standing to the right in the foreground.  Thank you Mississippi.  You can learn more about their Blues trail at msbluestrail.org.  It does also mention a link to explorechicago.com which contained a Blues Tour narrated by none other than our own, Buddy Guy.  The website however, re-navigated me to a new website where I could not find the audio tour.  I find this to be disheartening because I know Mr. Guy has been attempting to create a blues district in Chicago to honor our Chicago blues history, but Chicago politics has proven an obstacle.  At least we have the blues trail marker which explains that migrants such as bluesman, Muddy Waters, “arrived on Illinois Central trains which arrived at Central Station which stood across the street from this site from 1893 to 1974.”

Marker remembering original Union Station

Marker remembering original Union Station

The marker is right near the Museum campus and sits just north of Roosevelt Rd. near Indiana Avenue.  A few paces south of the marker stands 106 cast iron figures called Agora and sculpted by Magadalena Abakanowicz.  If you see those haunting and tall walking sculptures, you are very close.  From public transportation the site and marker are only about a 3 block walk east from the Roosevelt Green/Orange/Red line station.

If you have the opportunity to walk over to where the marker stands, take a moment to pause there and listen to the city.  People rush back and forth, traffic pours by and Metra trains rumble in and out from this spot, but it is still a pleasant park.  The noise and chaos you hear now couldn’t have possibly matched what southern migrants like Ida Mae Gladney experienced when they first arrived in Chicago.  (I strongly suggest that you do not choose to stand and listen at this spot on a Sunday when the Bears are playing at home.  You’ll have an entirely different sound experience.)  In Warmth of Others Suns Wilkerson recounts Ida Mae’s arrival:

                 Ida Mae and her family had ridden all through the night on the Illinois Central and had arrived, stiff and disheveled, in a cold, hurrying place of concrete and steel.  People clipped past them in their wool finery and distracted urgency, not pausing to speak – people everywhere, more people than they had maybe seen in one single place in their entire lives, coming as they were from the spread-out, isolated back country of plantations and lean-tos… The great belching city she passed through that day was the first city Ida Mae had ever laid eyes on.  That first glimpse of Chicago would stay wither her for as long as she lived.

This is why the site remains so historically important.  I write this in the year 2013.  The Great Migration statistically began about 1916.  This place, this entry point, was less than 100 years old yet the station itself is long gone without even a Chicago plaque to remember its value.

I haven’t touched  on any true Bronzeville sites yet, but I will cover several in my next two posts.  Part 2 will be up next Sunday.  As always, thank you for reading.