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Queer Bronzeville: African American LGBTs On Chicago's South Side, 1920-1940

Queer Bronzeville Chicago History 1920

First Posted: 03/ 3/2012 3:08 pm Updated: 03/ 3/2012 3:08 pm

Story by Tristan Cabello, courtesy the Windy City Times:

In the early 1920s, African American LGBTs were integrated to Bronzeville's mainstream culture and accommodated by its inhabitants, religious figures and political leaders, much unlike their white counterparts who had already created their own "gay" enclave of "Towertown" on the North Side.

From State Street to Cottage Grove Avenue, along 43rd and 47th Street, Bronzeville's commercialized and jazz-influenced urban culture offered African American gays and lesbians several venues where homosexuals and heterosexuals interacted across the color line (the Plantation Café, the Pleasure Inn, the Cabin Inn, Club DeLisa and Joe's Deluxe), yearly popular Halloween "Drag Balls" popularized by Black gay hustler Alfred Finnie, semi-safe locations (the Wabash YMCA, Washington Park, Jackson Park) , and a "vice district" which facilitated prostitution.

Bronzeville's most powerful inhabitants (Reverend Clarence Cobbs) and its most famous musicians (Tony Jackson, Rudy Richardson, Sippie Wallace, Frankie "Half-Pint" Jaxon, and George Hannah) were homosexuals. Joe Hughes, owner of a popular gay-friendly bar, was elected honorary mayor of Bronzeville in 1940. Journalist Theodore Jones regularly hired drag queen Valda Gray's troupe of female impersonators for parties given for Bronzeville's upper class. On the streets, working-class African American queers were also accepted. Lorenzo Banyard, a drag entertainer, remembers riding streetcars to the West Side, dressed in drag, without incident.

Read the whole story and view more photos here.

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Filed by Joseph Erbentraut  |