IN MEMORIAM: Harold Lucas; Bronzeville Preservationist, Organizer, Activist, and Historian

“Bronzeville probably would look very different today if it weren’t for the passion of Harold Lucas.
“Mr. Lucas, the son of a Pullman porter and grandson of a renowned chef who brought tastes of the world to the family table, knew all about Bronzeville’s glory days and never stopped educating people about them. Other activists and community leaders say his outspoken advocacy contributed to the preservation of some of the most historic buildings in the South Side neighborhood once known as the Black Metropolis.
“‘My heart,’ he once said, ‘has a vision of Bronzeville restored.’
“The longtime Bronzeville resident died Aug. 9 at the Estates of Hyde Park. He was 79.
“‘He was a giant,’ said Shannon Bennett, executive director of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, who called him the ‘foremost proponent’ of efforts to see Bronzeville recognized as ‘the Black Harlem of Chicago’ and ensure that its brick-and-mortar past survived.
“Bennett said Mr. Lucas’ legacy includes helping get city landmark status for the Overton Hygienic Building at 36th and State streets — once a hub of Black commerce — and for the former Eighth Regiment Armory building at 35th Street and Giles Avenue. The nation’s first armory built for a Black regiment, it’s now home to the Chicago Military Academy.
“Mr. Lucas also helped gain city landmark recognition for the building that housed Supreme Life, 3501 S. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr., the first Black insurance company in the northern states.
“‘As you walk and drive around Bronzeville, Harold’s works are everywhere,’ said Nathan Thompson, author of “Kings: The True Story of Chicago’s Policy Kings and Numbers Racketeers.”
“‘None of the work would have been possible without him being the drum major,’ said Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd).
“Mr. Lucas also fought against demolition of the South Shore Country Club.
“In his later years, he led bus tours of Bronzeville. He’d tell people how, in the days of the Great Migration, Bronzeville pulsed with Black industry, ambition and creativity. Racism and restrictive real estate covenants circumscribed home ownership in most of Chicago. But in Bronzeville, Black people headed businesses and produced sublime music and works of literature.
“‘Harold made the history come alive for us,’ Bennett said. ‘He made you think you were in one of the speakeasies or hearing the great jazz musicians from the Savoy Ballroom or Gerri’s Palm Tavern.’ (O’Donnell, Chicago Sun-Times, 8/26/22)


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