The Policy Machine Connecting Generations of Black Chicago
Updated: Jan 24
In 1938, the Kelly Brothers ran a policy wheel from the coach house we just purchased last April. We will be opening Obsidian House and the coach house in the very near future. Not only is it a museum and library, but it will also be a spot for young Black content creators to hang out and shape the Black narrative of the future. When working with the young people of Chicago, I always mention the story of Policy. What is now the Illinois State Lottery, used to be a local lottery in a closed community of Black Chicago referred to as The Black Metropolis or Bronzeville.Policy was run by pillars of the community called Policy Kings. These men were millionaires in the 1930s through to the 1960s. They actually made the business loans in the Black community that allowed Chicago’s Bronzeville to thrive with hundreds of Black owned businesses: a Black airport in Robbins, IL, Bessie Coleman’s airplanes, the Boxer Joe Louis’ training and Josephine Baker’s move to France and revisit to the States for starters! This ridiculous current narrative that we simply don’t have the knowledge to secure mainstream loans for business masks the blatant discriminatory practices that were and still are prevalent in American lending institutions.
The Obsidian Collection Archives has secured the oldest Chicago “policy wheel” in existence which will be made available for viewing at Obsidian House when we open.I talk a great deal about the acquisition of this artifact.It’s one of the many important artifacts that will be in our new work-share space. I talk about it so much, our Director of Technology, Adam Glover, insisted on seeing it in person immediately after we secured it. It’s one of the reasons I started The Obsidian Collection.
This policy wheel dates back to 1885 when John V. (Mushmouth) Johnson brought Policy to Black Chicago. Lotteries were used to finance the building of King’s College which went on to be Columbia University in New York and many buildings at Ivy League universities in this country. They were perceived as harmful as church fundraisers… until they were thriving as a means of survival and success in Black communities. They were branded as criminal enterprises run by gangsters and thugs until 1974 when Mayor Daley decided to bring the entire operation down state and rebrand it The Illinois State Lottery. “Gotta be in it, to win it” is their slogan. The fuel of our Black economy was routed out of the community. That’s the REAL REASON Black Chicago started to deteriorate.
We purchased the machine from Charles Bowen, one of the Pillars of the community that is Black Chicago. I met Charles (Chuck) when I first heard he had the machine. We were staging a pop-up museum about Policy in Chicago and I wanted it featured.His wealth of first-hand knowledge of Black Chicago was positively riveting! We formed a very close bond and he joined the Board of Directors when I formally organized The Obsidian Collection Archives.
Charles Bowen has owned this policy wheel for decades. He agreed to sell it to The Obsidian Collection Archives because he knows we will tell the stories the way he knew them. Chuck knows the young ones that align themselves with Obsidian want to hear from the Elders without the filter of these negative stereotypes that have permeated the internet.
Elder Charles Bowen is in his eighties and Adam Glover is in his mid-twenties. They are over three generations apart. Chuck passed Adam the baton through The Obsidian Collection and Adam will make sure this story is told around the world. This is what we are doing with The Obsidian Collection Archives.