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Bronzeville historian Harold Lucas to be honored with plaque

Harold Lucas, the Bronzeville historian who died earlier this month, will be honored with a plaque that will hang in the historic Chicago Bee branch of the Chicago Public Library, Alderman Pat Dowell announced at a memorial service on Monday, August 22.

Dowell was among 75 people who celebrated Lucas’ life at the Quarry in South Shore, where floral arrangements and speeches were part of a four-hour service that honored Lucas’ contributions to Bronzeville’s history.

Lucas, who stood up to Chicago’s political establishment as a fierce advocate for preserving Bronzeville as Chicago’s Black Metropolis, died August 9. He was 79.

In addition to a plaque in the library, Dowell said she will have all the city’s aldermen and the mayor sign a proclamation that will honor Lucas.

“He was a real Black man in the city of Chicago, and I want to thank you for just surrounding him with your support and keep carrying on his legacy,” Dowell said.

Dowell said the plaque honoring Lucas has already been approved and will be placed next month at the CPL’s Chicago Bee Branch, located at 3647 S. State St.

With its rich history and art deco architecture, the branch is a fitting location to honor Lucas.

The Chicago Bee Branch opened in the Chicago Bee building in May 1996. The building, built between 1929 and 1932, was the headquarters of the Chicago Bee, a Black weekly newspaper established in 1925 and which ran until 1947. The newspaper’s publisher was businessman Anthony Overton, who developed a cosmetics empire before his death in 1946.

During the memorial service, State Senator Mattie Hunter said Lucas was not being properly cared for in a nursing home until she called Springfield, which then called the facility.

“The next thing I know, he was getting the proper services he deserved,” Hunter said.

Sources said in his final months Lucas had been in hospice at Northwestern Memorial Hospital since the spring. Friends and former colleagues often visited him there until his health worsened.

Lucas was born in Bronzeville on November 1, 1942. He graduated from Hyde Park High School at a time when Blacks were moving into the East Woodlawn neighborhood. His daughter also graduated from the school.

In 1996, Lucas founded the Black Metropolis Convention Visitor Center in Bronzeville. The center was filled with African art, relics and historic artifacts that made the place a destination for tourists. It was located in the historic Supreme Life Insurance building at 35th and King Drive. In 2016, Lucas was forced out of the space after a dispute with the building’s landlord, businessman Elzie Higginbottom.

In recent years, he donated many of his artifacts and documents to Chicago State University and the Newberry Library on Chicago’s North Side.

Throughout his life, Lucas fought to preserve the history and Black culture of Bronzeville as gentrification and development booms threatened its identity. His strong loyalty to the neighborhood often led to clashes with City Hall and political officials.

In a YouTube video, Lucas praised Black Star Project Founder Philip Jackson and campaigned for the preservation of the now restored Rosenwald Apartments at 46th and Michigan, where entertainers Quincy Jones, Marla Gibbs and Nat King Cole once lived.

He was friends with William “Bill” Ball of Abundance Bakery, who died last June.

Overcome with emotion at times, Sherri Lucas-Hall told the Crusader during an interview after her father’s death that Lucas “was my Rock, but I also know that he was a confidant, mentor, guide, and friend to so many others who will also miss him.”

“We are all his legacy, but I am especially proud that he was just my daddy, and I will miss him more than I can reveal.”

Lucas-Hall said she will miss her dad’s hugs, but she remembers her conversations about Bronzeville with him.

“That’s all he talked about. He loved Bronzeville. He valued the people in the community,” Lucas-Hall told the Crusader. “He never wanted to leave there.”

Lucas-Hall now lives in the Atlanta area; she works as an educator and owns a tutorial business.

Gloria Smith, executive director of the Black Star Project in Bronzeville said her brother Philip Jackson, who died in 2018, shared a deep bond with Lucas.

“Philip and he were more than just close. They were brothers in the struggle,” Smith said.

Sherry Williams, founder and president of the Bronzeville Historical Society, said she met Lucas in 2000 when they were trying to save Gerri Oliver’s the Palm Tavern in Bronzeville from demolition.

“Harold was vocal about preserving our history and our landmarks in Bronzeville,” Williams said.

Affectionately known as “Buzzie” by some and “The Curmudgeon” by others, Lucas in addition to Sherri had a son, Eli. He was a proud grandfather and great grandfather.

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