Alma Richmond, who turned 100 on April 12, still regularly calls her alderman and often holds court on the 3900 block of West Monroe St., where she’s lived for nearly 60 years. The local matriarch, known universally as “Granny,” has seen generations of neighbors leave. But when she’s yearning to see a familiar face, sometimes all she has to do is put out a word.
Lynetta Daniel, 63, met Richmond when she was just 9 years old and living with her parents across the street. Daniel moved to the South Side with her mother around 10 years ago.
“Once, Granny asked my daughter about my mom and my daughter told her, ‘Granny, my grandmother lives with my mom, now.’ Granny says, ‘Tell her I want to see her,” Daniel recalled.
“My daughter called me and said, ‘You have been summoned.’ I’m thinking, the only person on Monroe who can summon me is Granny. So, I pulled up the next day and there she was on the porch. She goes, ‘How did I know I was going to see you today?’ I said, ‘No you didn’t go there! You summoned for me! Who is going to refuse you?’ She’s just as alert as she wants to be and doesn’t she look good?”
Daniel returned to her childhood block along with a few dozen other neighbors — past and present — friends and relatives to see Richmond unveil a street sign bearing her name during a quaint sidewalk ceremony held on April 21. Although she was in a wheelchair that day, Richmond still cut a sprightly figure even sitting down and is alive and buoyant enough to pass for someone at least a decade younger.
Her children noted that she still gets around even without the wheelchair and cooks regularly.
“I speak to her once a month, sometimes every other month,” said Ald. Jason Ervin (28th). “She calls just to say hello. Sometimes she has an issue and we tackle it. I’ve been communicating with her since I’ve been in office.”
Richmond’s daughter, Terry Wheat, said she was 14 years old when she moved to West Monroe St., and her mother has been cultivating it ever since.
“She started the block club party, she pulls a lot of things together,” Wheat said. “She sits on that porch in the summertime and makes people speak to her. Once she says hello and you don’t respond, it’s, ‘Hellooo!!’ People respect her around here.”
Shang Richmond, 68, and the oldest of his mother’s three children, said when he and his siblings moved on the block in 1959, most of their neighbors were white.
“We moved here to be in a better neighborhood,” he said, adding that he played basketball at St. Philip and his two sisters attended Providence St. Mel. It was a dream and a train ticket away from the small town of Mount Airy, North Carolina, where their mother grew up.
Granny Richmond said she moved from there to Chicago, “because there wasn’t a high school down there to go to.”
The year was 1934, the final year of the Chicago World’s Fair, which Richmond attended. She said still has a photo of her as a young girl standing on the fair grounds. As the years passed, Richmond — who worked for 30 years as a registered beautician — would be a front-line observer to some of the most significant moments in the city’s history.
She marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., when he visited Chicago for his fair housing campaign in 1966 and her house is a one-minute walk from Madison Street, the site of massive rioting and looting following King’s assassination in 1968.
All of those memories were massaged out of Granny Richmond by her children and grandchildren (“Talk about how you marched with Dr. King …”). Ask Richmond to recall this history herself and the woman whose presence on the porch anchors her block’s relative tranquility defers to a humble nonchalance.
So what’s happened, Granny Richmond, during the six decades of your quiet reign over this block of Monroe Street?
“Nothing much,” she says, before easing back into a softly creased smile.
A previous version of this article incorrectly described Richmond as “wheelchair-bound,” when, in fact, the 100-year-old is still walking rather well.