Our Chicago: History & Heritage

ByABC7 Chicago Digital Team WLS logo
Monday, February 26, 2024
Our Chicago: History & Heritage Part 1
Harold's Fried Chicken has been a Chicago cuisine staple for an amazing eight decades.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- This Black History Month, ABC7 is honoring the history and heritage of those making a difference.

Harold's Chicken

Val's son talks with his great-great-uncle, an Olympic gold medalist, and ABC7 meets Sidney Miles, a former college football player who now holds yoga classes.

It's known for its delectable fried chicken, often smothered in a trademark mild sauce.

Of course, we're talking about Harold's Fried Chicken, a Chicago cuisine staple for an amazing eight decades.

What's even more amazing is that it is still run by the same family. Back in 1950, Harold Pierce opened the very first Harold's Chicken Shack at the intersection of 47th Street and Greenwood Avenue in the Kenwood neighborhood.

Now, 74 years later, Harold's daughter, Kristen, is the CEO of the restaurant chain, which has over 40 franchises nationwide, including in cities like Los Angeles and Atlanta.

"It's the best chicken around," Kristen Pierce says about her restaurant's main fare.

Harold's has become a part of pop culture in Chicago, named-checked by rappers like Lupe Fiasco and Chance. But it's also become a key part of Chicago's reputation for distinctive dining.

While the various Harold's franchises have different looks, they all have the same standards for preparing the chicken. The product is marinated overnight, and then dredged in a specially seasoned flour for 15 minutes.

Then, there's that mild sauce.

"When I was a kid, you know, the mild sauce was only ketchup and hot sauce," Kristen Pierce recently told ABC7's Hosea Sanders. "Then, we had an idea to mix hot sauce and some things together, and we created the mild sauce."

Harold's will celebrate a milestone 75th anniversary this September. And Pierce says she will pay a special tribute to her dad during the anniversary.

"Whenever I pass by Harold's, you know, I had contemplating a few times of selling," Pierce said. "And what changed my mind was I rather say 'There is my Dad' than "There goes my Dad.' That's keeping a part of my dad alive."

The 'other' Michigan Avenue

South Michigan Avenue in Roseland was once known as the "Jewel of the South Side."

It was a shopping mecca with dozens of businesses from restaurants to retail stores to a theater. But after facing decades of disinvestment, the once shining jewel has been reduced to empty storefronts and shuttered windows. But Roseland's story doesn't end here.

Community activists and local leaders are banding together to turn the "other" Michigan Avenue into a thriving business hub once more. Alderman Anthony A. Beale is moving towards turning Roseland into a medical district, which would help build up the area with businesses to support a new, robust medical center.

The CEO of the Greater Roseland Chamber of Commerce, Andrea D. Reed, is helping give entrepreneurs training and resources to open Black-owned businesses. And local business owners such as Old-Fashioned Donuts owner Burritt Bulloch are hoping the community investments bring new life and new business to the area.

As Beale puts it, "The South Michigan Avenue that once was may not come back as people once knew it. But we're confident that what we're building now, from becoming a medical district to expanding the Red Line to 130th street to encourage more traffic the area, will finally bring investment back into this community."

Val's family track 'meet'

Women's LIVE Artist Studio gives women artist a space to create and the tools needed to succeed. Redemptive Plastics redeems recyclables and transform them into functional art.

This Black History Month, we're honoring the history and heritage of those making a difference. And this story takes a deep look into Val's family roots.

Her son Max got to meet his great-great-uncle, Greg. Dr. Gregory Bell, a former track and field athlete who won an Olympic gold medal for the long jump in 1956.

"To my knowledge, there was no one else in my lineage who showed even a desire of the ability to do something noteworthy," Bell said.

At 93, he is about to meet his great, great nephew for the first time. Maxwell Warner is a rising track and field athlete and a two-time All-American in the triple jump.

It's the ultimate "track meet."


Sidney Miles is a former college football player who faced physical health issues as an athlete. His doctor advised him to practice yoga to avoid having surgery. He found that practicing yoga not only improved his physical health, but mental health as well.

"When I started doing yoga, it made me understand myself and understand the trauma that I've been through in my past," Mies said. "And I was like, 'If I do this with my brothers and sisters, it's going to help them understand themselves, too.'"

Now, he holds yoga classes primarily on the South Side of Chicago to help others who may share his experiences. One of his goals is to get more Black boys and men practicing yoga. You can learn more about Yogaletics classes at https://www.instagram.com/yogaletics_/.

Women's LIVE Artist Studio

ABC7 meets at-home studio, quilter, artist and historian Dorothy Straughter. The Happiness Club gives kids a safe space to learn how to sing, dance, rap and write music.

Women's LIVE Artist Studio is a public gallery and art collective of more than 30 female artists. Based on Chicago's Navy Pier, they hold live painting demonstrations for the pier's millions of tourists as well as workshops.

Artists and co-founders Dana Todd Pope and Martha A. Wade launched Women's LIVE Artist Studio last year after participating in Navy Pier's Neighborhood Artisan Market. The pier then invited them to curate a kiosk space for Women's History Month to sell their works. Now, almost a year later, Women's LIVE Artist Studio is making a name for itself nationally and internationally.

Todd Pope and Wade wanted to give women artist a space to create, and the tools needed to succeed.

"Being a woman in today's society is tough, and many times women artist are an afterthought," Pope says.

"Many of our artist are mothers, and they have full time schedules outside of working here. But if we can give them a space to create and grow, we're happy to do it," says Wade.

And growing is exactly what the organization is doing, as they have been invited to participate in the prestigious 2024 Venice Biennale global art exhibition in Venice, Italy.

"I went to the Biennale a few years ago, so never did I imagine I would be presenting artwork at it just a few short years later," Pope says.

But even more important to Pope and Wade is that they are able to inspire a new generation of female artists.

"When I see little girls, especially little girls of color, come up and watch me paint live, I love it" says Pope. "I didn't have that experience growing up. So, to be able to be that inspiration for someone else, it's incredible."

Redemptive Plastics

Redemptive Plastics is a collaborative project between alt_Chicago, an artist-led, faith-based, and community-driven nonprofit and Happy Returns Studio, a studio where robotics and recycling meet the arts. With Redemptive Plastics, the two groups are looking to redeem recyclables and transform them into functional art.

"Functional art became that physical expression, that tangible thing that now can become a communal component through artistic practice and artistic expression that can lead to communal change," Redemptive Plastics Director Jordan Campbell said.

Redemptive Plastic is based on Chicago's West Side and provides job opportunities for young adults in the area. Through cohorts, West Side natives learn to make objects such as benches and stools with plastic.

"I do want to get into a partnership with the city to be able to take the bus benches that are out there and replace them with our bus benches that we make," cohort participant Darrius Mathis said.

Lake Stool is an art book created by Redemptive Plastics' second cohort, "Plastic Patrol." To learn more about this project visit, alt_ Chicago.

Chicago quilt artist

In an upstairs at-home studio, quilter, artist and historian Dorothy Straughter stitches together history that tells the trials and triumphs of generations of Black people both American and from around the world.

Straughter was introduced to quilting by a neighbor, who allowed Dorothy to look at and sleep under her Underground Railroad quilt. She experienced a deep connection to the ancestors who used that quilt that night, and she soon took up quilting as a passion.

Straughter had the opportunity to catalog and study the historical artifacts of the Edward J. Williams collection, located at Stony Island Arts Bank. This collection served as historical inspiration and informed much of her work, including her Great Migration quilt as well as her Valentine's Day Card quilt.

The quilts Straughter creates tackle difficult subjects from American history, such as lynching, racist caricature, the horrors of slavery and other struggles that the Black community faced. In a very raw piece, she depicted the lynching of a man who voted, where she addressed the horror of the event but also the spiritual strength of generations of Black Americans. While the imagery can be shocking and evocative, Straughter aims for her work to address this generational trauma in the hopes that viewers of her artwork leave with a resolve to learn from the past.

Straughter's quilts also honor the contributions of notable Black Americans. She pays homage to blues legends Johnny Twist and Coco Taylor in her Blues quilt, and on her Great Migration quilt, she details the Chicago Black Renaissance that arrived in Chicago in the 1920s.

Her Valentine's Day Card quilt aims to take back images once used to belittle the Black community and instead use it as a form of empowerment. The card featured the bare bum of a little Black girl. Straughter took this image and reframed it into an image celebrating the beauty of Black women. In her two-sided quilt, she includes an image of the back of the woman with her bum out, which celebrates the power of her body, and then includes the front where she demurely holds down her dress, as if a gust of wind caught her off guard. A one-dimensional caricature becomes a three-dimensional image of a powerful woman.

"I like texture on texture on texture," Straughter explains, pointing out the intricate folds of a quilted dress.

Like the depth of the history she covers, her colorful quilts feature rich patterns that hold meaning, both obvious and hidden. One of her favorite fabrics to work with she calls her "ancestor fabric," which features a mask pattern. She uses this fabric throughout her work as a motif that honors those who came before her, both genetically and spiritually.

"All of us are part of this ancestry," Straughter states.

While her main focus is Black history, she notes that we are all connected, regardless of race or background.

"The history that I am quilting is American history, and it has led me in so many different directions, but for the most part makes me feel very empowered," she says.

This message of empowerment she hopes to share with those who view her art and are witness to the history she retells.

You can find Straughter's work at many notable venues across the Chicago area, including instillations at the Adler Planetarium, the Museum of Science and Industry and the Art Institute.

  • Facebook: American History Quilts
  • LinkedIn: Mrs. Dorothy Cross Straughter

Happiness Club

Tanji Harper, the artistic director of the Happiness Club says, "I don't care your size, your color, your gender, I want you to feel safe and celebrated."

The Happiness Club is a performing arts organization, but it is also a club. Tanji's goal is to give kids a safe space to learn how to sing, dance, rap, write music and celebrate happiness. She helps the kids understand that happiness is a choice and that once you find it for yourself you can spread it to others.

One club member lives in a rough neighborhood and does not have the luxury of feeling safe while playing outside.

She reflects, "Coming here [to the Happiness Club] makes me forget about a lot of things going on in my neighborhood. It shows me I don't have to be like everyone else there and I can be my own person."

The Happiness Club performs all over the city and gives members, some of whom haven't ventured far from Chicago's city limits, a chance to see other parts of the country. They performed at Lollapalooza and during the Obama years, they performed on the White House lawn three times.

Ricketa Davis, a Happiness Club member for 10 years, remembers the trip to the White House like it was yesterday because it had such a huge impact on her life.

Ricketa also sings the praises of Harper, saying she's "everything to me, means everything, like a mother, mentor, friend, sister, brother honestly whatever you want her to be, she can be that for you."

The Happiness Club practices every Sunday at the Harold Washington Cultural Center. For more information go to: https://thehappinessclub.com/