Veteran actor and newest cast member of “Power”, Larenz Tate, speaks exclusively with the Sentinel on the decade long journey of bringing the true story of the historic Chicago neighborhood of Bronzeville from vision to fruition.
LAS: There are several historical examples of African Americans creating our own thriving communities that some how or another, were dismantled. Can you give insight on what was the downfall of such a prosperous community like Bronzeville?
Larenz Tate: Like other communities, Bronzeville was the Mecca of Black Metropolis’ that were popping up all over the country during the Great Migration from the late 1800s through the early 1920s from Harlem, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Detroit, and Idlewild; all of these places where black folks had their own infrastructures. Bronzeville was independently set up like the Jewish, Polish, Italian and Irish immigrant communities, which were all very self-sufficient. The economic engine for black communities like Bronzeville was The Policy which was basically running numbers—you give a number to a booker and if you hit, you get money. The people who were running these policies were really the pillars in the community and they invested back in to the community so Bronzeville had it’s own department stores, hospitals and it’s own police department. It also had a political infrastructure, if you were new to town you were set up to vote because that was a part of the community. This is a part of American history that we’ve gotten away from, it’s that forgotten history but it’s so rich and cultured—this is where black folks didn’t allow oppression to detour them from having a piece of the American dream. We owned our own banks, theaters, museums, you name it, and we had it.
Back then we had a set of core values that allowed us to really progress in a way where it didn’t matter that we were dealing with Jim Crow and all of the other things that oppressed us, we still had our own.
Over a period of time that economic engine began to be taken over by other communities and eventually the state came in, took it over and it’s what we know now as the Illinois State Lottery.
People don’t know about the genesis of how they eventually legalized bootlegging and alcohol. What they did was create a state lottery based off what we were doing in our community. We wanted to talk about it and display it in an audio series as a way to sort of get back to that theatre of the mind.
This isn’t an audio book where someone is just reading off a page, we have actors actually performing scenes as if you’re right there. Myself and Fishburne were so enamored by this world and we wanted to tell that story so our companies got together along with our producing partners and we decided to do this audio series and we’ve received great feedback so far.
LAS: You previously mentioned that you learned about the Bronzville community through Quincy Jones when you were filming “Ray”. With that being over 10 years ago, what was the process of developing the series?
LT: In 2003 Quincy Jones brought this to my attention. He’s such an icon with such amazing stories. He’s originally from the south side of Chicago and we were talking about the time when black folks had thriving communities.
He told me about a particular family that were The Policy kings, they were very wealthy and had massive influence on Bronzeville. Jones’ father ran numbers for this family. As we talked more about it, he said someone needed to tell this story.
From there I was intrigued about this idea of black folks actually having something and not walking around with our hands out. We don’t talk about that story enough. The fact that this happened at a time where we couldn’t even imagine it being possible but we did it. So it took a long time because we went around town trying to tell Hollywood about this idea and we got nothing. We were told it’s a great idea but no one got behind it. It took years and years; we were trying to do it as a movie, as a TV show, a mini-series, we were trying to do it in any capacity and the people that we went to via networks or studios and the response we would get was that they weren’t interested in a period piece, but then I’d see all these films about slavery pop up, that’s a period piece!
While those stories should be told, what’s the antithesis of telling stories that don’t focus on oppression or bondage? We wanted to talk about another aspect of black culture because this actually happened.
After a couple networks, loved the idea but didn’t understand how to execute it, we decided to do this on our own, independently. We connected with a company called Audio HQ and my company Tateman Entertainment and Fisburne’s Cinema Gypsy decided to roll it out.
We called up our friends, got an historian on board and we got an Academy Award nominated writer, Josh Olsen, who wrote an incredible script but we oversaw everything and we came up with something that we’re all very proud of.
A new episode of the 10-part audio series also starring Tika Sumpter, Omari Hardwick, Tracee Ellis Ross and more premieres weekly on iTunes. To learn more visit: bronzevilleseries.com