Artist Richard Hunt fist bumps great-grandson of Wells' Dan Duster as residents, public officials and the family of Ida B. Wells gather for the unveiling of the Ida B. Wells Monument in Bronzeville on June 30, 2021. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

BRONZEVILLE — It’s been nearly a year since Rep. Bobby Rush introduced a bill that would designate Bronzeville a “national heritage area,” an official designation he and others community leaders hope will draw more tourists to the historic neighborhood.

And with Rush announcing his impending retirement from Congress, he is more determine than ever to see it happen.

His bill, named HR 670, would designate the community an official national heritage area. Sen. Dick Durbin introduced a similar bill to the Senate in 2021. Both went before the Natural Resources Committee in October.

U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush discusses his future plans after 30 years in Congress at Robert’s Temple Church Of God In Christ, 4021 S. State St., in Bronzeville on Jan. 4, 2022. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

A landmark designation would mean $10 million in federal funding from the U.S. Department of the Interior over the course of 15 years after the act is enacted, and potential oversight from the National Park Service. Currently 85 sites are on the National Historical Site register.

It also means an economic boon that would benefit parts of the community that have been overlooked.

“The committee actually invited the National Park Service to be a part of it. Part of what you have to do to become a national heritage area is that you have to meet certain criteria,” said Bernard Turner, president and executive director of the Black Metropolis National Heritage Area Commission. Turner and other stakeholders have spent years working on the designation.

Blacks In Green founder Naomi Davis (in white shirt and pants) is joined by community elders for the unveiling of the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley House’s city landmark plaque July 25. Credit: Jamie Nesbitt Golden/Block Club Chicago

Turner told Block Club the team is reviewing the committee’s recommendations, which included awaiting the update to the state’s legislative map and “pinpointing all the other efforts attributed to the national heritage area.”

The next move will be to get another hearing, or get the bill pushed to the Senate for a vote, added Turner.

With efforts underway to open a Till-Mobley House Museum, the construction of the Obama Presidential Library, the installation of the Ida B. Wells monument and the landmark designation of Blues legend Muddy Waters’ childhood home joining other cultural community assets, Turner and others are confident that Bronzeville’s rich history will be a big draw for tourists.

Rush, a longtime Bronzeville resident, told Block Club the bill is on his priority list of items to see through before he retires.

“Few places have been as touched by African American culture as the city of Chicago. From Ida B. Wells to Nat King Cole, Bronzeville is a birthplace of Black genius — genius that has had a lasting influence on our city, our state and our entire nation,” said Rush. “It unequivocally deserves landmark recognition and I intend to continue fighting to make that a reality.”

A similar bill was introduced for the Pullman National Historical Act in 2019.

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