Bronzeville Legends, Chicago

2023 Landmarks Illinois Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Preservation Award for Cultural Heritage Preservation

Bronzeville Legends is a curated multi-site placemaking campaign that uses large murals of the South Side community’s past residents to celebrate Bronzeville’s rich heritage. Artist and Urban Planner Chris Devins began the initiative by raising funds through crowdsourcing in 2013. The project also received funds from 3rd Ward Ald. Pat Dowell’s office, Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC) and the Chicago Neighborhood Initiative. Devins has completed seven mural projects that include jazz legend Louis Armstrong at 3955 S. King Dr. and playwright Lorraine Hansberry at E. 51st Street and Calument Avenue. A mural along a 260-foot-long fence at the Bronzeville Mariano’s grocery store also features famous past residents like journalist and civil rights leader Ida B. Wells and aviator Bessie Coleman, the first African American woman to receive a pilot license.

(Photo credit: Chris Devins)

Additional information

Artist and Urban Planner Chris Devins began the Bronzeville Legends initiative in 2013 by engaging the community and asking whom they would like to be displayed. Nat King Cole was the resounding vote winner, and Devins recreated a historic photo of Nat King Cole as the first mural.

Devins placed the mural on the TK Lawless building on the corner of 43rd and King Drive. Lawless himself was a notable doctor, businessman and philanthropist. Author Gwendolyn Brooks is on a mural across the street. So far, Devins has completed seven mural projects, including Louis Armstrong, Lorraine Hansberry, and murals along a 260-foot-long fence at the Bronzeville Mariano’s grocery store.

A block-long storage facility in Bronzeville was regularly tagged with graffiti and spray paint. After Devins recreated and placed 10 heroic-sized murals of images on the building’s bricked-in windows, the building owner said all of the graffiti problems stopped. “Commonly held memories are the glue that holds an area’s residents together in community,” said Devins.

The son of an Irishman and a black mother who lived in Bronzeville, Devins understands how important self-identity is. Bronzeville, the home of the Great Migration, has had many historic residents, businesses, musicians and artists. Devins still lives in Bronzeville and wants the community to identify with this rich cultural past reflected in Bronzeville Legends’ murals.

Earlier this year, President Joe Biden signed the National Heritage Act and designated the Bronzeville-Black Metropolis National Heritage Area. The Bronzeville Legends Initiative is a perfect enhancement to this recognition.

The project received funds from crowdfunding and then from 3rd Ward Ald. Pat Dowell’s office, Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC) and the Chicago Neighborhood Initiative.


(Photo credit: Chris Devins)

Project Principals

Chris Devins, Owner


Chris Devins

My grandmother, mother, aunts and uncles grew up in the now-demolished Ida B. Wells housing project. I am proud to have a mural on the land where they lived.

Chicago’s version of the Harlem Renaissance happened in Bronzeville. Bronzeville was home to famous African-Americans like Lorraine Hansberry, Gwendolyn Brooks, Richard Wright, Louis Armstrong, Bessie Coleman, Ida B. Wells, Jack Johnson and many others.From the 1920s to the 1940s, Bronzeville was second only to Harlem as a center of Black culture.

Bronzeville had its problems, as well. Redlining restricted Black Chicagoans from renting and buying property outside the “Black Belt.” In 1941, the Ida B Wells housing project was to provide housing and a step up for low and middle-income families, many just starting after migrating from the South. However, after years of operation, Ida B Wells/Madden Park suffered like the city’s other housing projects. Urban blight and crime followed, leading to neighborhood deterioration.

Today, the neighborhood’s historic significance is driving new development efforts. Nightlife is slowly improving, and there are many coffee shops and restaurants. The neighborhood’s rich history is its primary asset. We will waste a massive opportunity if its strong identity is lost and it becomes a generic south “South Loop.”

Many Bronzeville boosters held on through the hard years, always believing in the area and its potential. While the CHA’s Plan for Transformation relocated many residents, a good part of the area’s original and historical legacy must be preserved and protected during future development.

(Photo credit: Lauren Head, Girl Scouts of America)


Chris Devins

The murals have affected the community as a whole, preserving essential memories. The murals have become an important part of the neighborhood and are used by community residents and business owners, Chicago booster organizations and media as visual representations of the area. Educational institutions use the sites as visual reminders to their students to celebrate the personal qualities of excellence and perseverance that allowed past Bronzeville residents to rise to positions of eminence and to communicate those qualities to our youth.

The Initiative preserves the community’s cultural heritage and leverages that heritage, acting as a catalyst for arts and culture awareness, education, community pride and inspiration and tourism

The murals act as memory walls. The public nature of the murals democratizes art, which is usually divorced from its surroundings and placed in galleries. The Bronzeville Legends Identity Initiative is a multi-year project. This first stage, “Identity,” restores and preserves some of the historic Identity of Bronzeville. Knowing where you came from helps you get where you’re going.

(Photo credit: Regan Scott)

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