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Austin, Garfield Park, North Lawndale

How Should Chicago Rename Its Public Parks? Here’s How To Weigh In With Your Ideas

The changes come after a years-long effort to change Douglas Park to Douglass Park in honor of abolitionists Frederick Douglass and Anna Murray-Douglass.

Teacher Jennifer Pagan (left) and student Aryn Peterson at Douglas Park.
Pascal Sabino/Block Club Chicago
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NORTH LAWNDALE — Chicago Park District officials are trying to create a better process for changing park names after the recent push to rename Douglas Park to honor abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

The Park District Board of Commissioners is trying to better spell out how community members can propose removing the name of a historical figure from a park and replacing it to honor someone else.

Until recently, the district had never stripped the name of someone from a park. But amid growing demands for the city to stop honoring people with racist histories, city officials are creating a formal process to determine who is memorialized in statues, memorials and park names.

Members of the public have 45 days to offer feedback on how the park district naming process can be improved. You can contact the parks board at lca@chicagoparkdistrict.com or at 312-742-4762.

“We also want to reflect the obligation to protect the historical integrity of our parks. But at the same time, we need to balance community viewpoints, opinions and input,” board member Tim King said at a Wednesday meeting.

The board just weeks ago initiated a process to rename Douglas Park to Douglass Park in honor of Frederick Douglass and his wife, Anna Murray-Douglass.

Neighborhood youth worked for three years to change the name, which currently honors de-facto slavery advocate Stephen Douglas, a Civil War-era senator from Illinois.

In July, the board advanced a proposal to remove Stephen Douglas from the park’s name and evaluate a new name.

The new rules would formalize this same process should community members come forward with similar proposals at other parks.

“What we want to do today is create a thoughtful, deliberative process for future considerations because we don’t feel like this will be the last request to come before this body,” board President Avis LaVelle said at the July meeting.

Organizers who fought for years to get Douglas Park renamed spoke at Wednesday’s meeting. They said the current process left them feeling ignored and voiceless despite getting overwhelming community support and the backing of elected officials.

The organizers are hoping the district’s improved policy will allow for more participation in the renaming process.

“There was no acknowledgement” of the youth activism that led to the name change, said Bianca Jones, a mentor to the students leading the campaign to rename Douglas Park. The young people were not invited to speak at the board meeting where the name change was discussed.

“In the beginning of the meeting I was excited because all of our hard work for three years, everybody would have realized it and Douglas Park would have been finally changed,” said student Raniya Thomas. “But towards the end, I was a little frustrated because we didn’t get a chance to speak.”

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.

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