Chicago’s most famous road may soon be renamed in honor of the black man known as the city’s first non-Native resident and credited with its founding: Jean Baptiste Point DuSable.
Aldermen are due to vote Wednesday on changing Lake Shore Drive to “Jean Baptiste Point du Sable Drive” from Hollywood Avenue to 67th Street. The sponsors of the proposal say the change would only affect the exterior driveway of the causeway, to avoid thousands of address changes for people who live and businesses who operate along the west side of the river bank. lake.
DuSable was a Haitian explorer who developed a trading post along the Chicago River in the late 1700s. DuSable sold the land in 1800 and moved to Peoria. Advocates and supportive aldermen say racism has kept DuSable from getting the recognition he deserves.
“The people of Chicago know that the main reason or reasons why a nervous few may want to oppose [the name change] …are fear, unconscious bias and big donors who are not ready to embrace change,” Ephraim Martin, leader of the Black Heroes Matter group, said at a recent town hall meeting.
This group was formed out of the protests over the murder of George Floyd, but Martin says some members of the group have been fighting for recognition of DuSable for 25 years.
Martin made his remarks at a contentious committee meeting in late April that illustrated the significance of the name change to the aldermen who championed it. At one point, one of the proposal’s sponsors, 17th ward Ald. David Moore, alleged that the mayor’s office was being racist in trying to override the ordinance to accommodate certain technical aspects of the language (such as the use of street versus avenue), and stating that the change name would relate only to the exterior, not the residential, portion of the road.
A shouting match ensued, leading to a brief pause, and an alderman playing “Kumbaya” from a cellphone. Ultimately, aldermen voted to approve Moore’s ordinance, without technical changes, sending it to the full city council for the vote scheduled for this week.
Lake Shore Drive has had the same name since 1946, according to the Chicago Public Library. But there is recent precedent for renaming a major Chicago road. In 2019, the city installed the signs that renamed parts of Congress Parkway to Ida B Wells, honoring the Chicago journalist and anti-lynching activist. It was the first major street name change in 50 years, said proposal co-sponsor 4th ward Ald. Sophia King, who lobbied for Wells’ change in 2018.
She said if passed, the DuSable ordinance could require several locations on the east side of Lake Shore Drive to change addresses, but doing so could be beneficial.
“The museum campus may need to change its stationery, but I think that’s also a good thing. I think DuSable Drive can bring marketing opportunities and set us apart as a truly world-class city that celebrates diversity,” King said.
Author, Historian and Wells great-granddaughter Michelle Duster said she encouraged DuSable’s name change on Wednesday. Duster said she almost cried when she saw the last Ida B Wells signs installed along Chicago’s freeways, directing motorists to the Ida B. Wells exit.
“All I hope is that people don’t just hear the name and say, ‘Ok, we’re going down to Ida B Wells not knowing who she was,’ Duster said. they haven’t heard of her, they can just google her name and find out who this woman who is so honored in downtown Chicago is.”
The DuSable name is currently affixed to several Chicago establishments, including a small landmark, a high school, and the DuSable Museum of African American History.
Aldermen have a busy day ahead of them on Wednesday, with several other big items on the agenda.
They will be asked to demand it tow truck drivers must be allowed to work in the city of Chicago.
Plus, another mega development could soon come to fruition just north of downtown. Aldermen could give the green light to the rezoning of a large swath of land between the Gold Coast and Cabrini Green, next to where the Moody Bible Institute currently stands.
JDL Development wants to build several high-rise towers with more than 2,500 apartments and condos on the site. Aldermen will vote on the proposed rezoning on Tuesday and, if approved, the measure will go to full council for approval on Wednesday.
A development across the city of Bridgeport – the restoration of the Ramova Theater – is also seeking council approval on Wednesday. The Urban Revival Chicago group is asking aldermen to approve an expanded tax increment funding district that would give the project $6.8 million, up from $6.6 million previously approved.
The project would transform the dilapidated theater into an entertainment venue and restaurant. Aldermen approved the committee increase on Monday, when 2nd Ward Ald. Brian Hopkins said his parents dated at the Ramova as teenagers.
“I’m looking forward to my first bowl of Ramova Grill chili after it reopens,” he said.
A draft order for publish a database of police misconduct investigations was postponed until next month. The long-debated decision would have made malpractice investigations of the past two decades public.
The Office of Inspector General advocated for the creation of such a database, but withdrew its support last week after changes were made. Lightfoot presented the changes as a compromise, but others, including Deputy Inspector General Deborah Witzburg and the Better Government Association, said the updated proposal had been “watered down.”
WBEZ’s Becky Vevea contributed reporting.
Mariah Woelfel covers municipal government at WBEZ. You can follow her on Twitter @MariahWoelfel.