CHICAGO — A long-stalled plan to rename Lake Shore Drive after Chicago’s first permanent non-Indigenous settler was given new life this week — only to be delayed again Thursday afternoon.
An ordinance to rename the iconic drive for Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable, honoring the Black explorer who established a trading post at the mouth of the Chicago River in the late 1700s, was a late addition to the agenda of the Committee on Transportation and Public Way, but the item was deferred shortly after the meeting began.
For months, members of the group Black Heroes Matter have spoken during City Council meetings urging aldermen to pass the ordinance, first introduced by Ald. David Moore (17th) in October 2019 and co-sponsored by 10 others.
Instead, the chairman of the Committee, Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), announced the committee will reconvene Friday morning to conduct a hearing on the proposal, but will not vote on the measure. Brookins only committed to “hopefully” holding an up-or-down vote on the ordinance by next April.
On Thursday, Moore told the Sun-Times he agreed to amend the ordinance, limiting the name change to outer Lake Shore Drive from Hollywood to 67th Street to limit the cost of the proposed name change.
Ephraim Martin, CEO of Martin’s International Foundation, said Thursday the honor is long overdue, arguing Du Sable “was deprived the honors owed to him” because he was Black.
“We will let the 240 years of bygones be bygones, but you must now start the process of correcting systemic racism in Chicago and…vote ‘yes’ to rename Lake Shore Drive, Du Sable Drive,” he said.
“We people just cannot take it any longer, the Black Heroes Matter coalition is saying ‘the time is up, let us do the right thing.’”
Du Sable settled where the Chicago River and Lake Michigan meet in 1779, establishing a trading post and farm before selling the property in 1800 and moving to the port of St. Charles. But Du Sable’s “successful role in developing the Chicago River settlement was little recognized until the mid-20th century,” the ordinance says.
Renaming the drive would help educate the “very few people, especially tourists and new Chicagoans” about Du Sable’s life and importance to the city, the ordinance says.
The delay comes as Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration conducts an assessment of all statues and other memorials to historical figures, flagging problematic pieces for possible removal and recommending new monuments or public art to be commissioned.
Lightfoot ordered the removal of three statues honoring Christopher Columbus over the summer, although at the time she said the removals were “temporary.”
In a statement, Lightfoot didn’t take a position on the renaming, but did say DuSable deserves recognition.
“Jean Baptiste Point du Sable played a critical role in Chicago’s history and it is long overdue that we honor and recognize his important contributions to our city,” the mayor said. “I look forward to continuing the conversation with the various stakeholders to find a way to enshrine his legacy. As I have said before, this is not about a single statue, mural or street, it’s about how we uplift the stories of all our city’s diverse residents particularly when it comes to memorialization of our shared history.”
Moore’s ordinance recognizes other honors given to Du Sable, but argues it is “appalling that the founder of this great city has no major street named after him in Chicago.”
In addition to a school and the Du Sable Museum of African American History in Hyde Park, a small monument sits near the Du Sable Bridge on Michigan Avenue. The Chicago Park District is also renovating Du Sable Park, east of Lake Shore Drive, as part of the development that will plug the hole at the former Chicago Spire site.
When announcing the committee to catalog the city’s memorials and public art, Lightfoot’s office said the project aimed to have a final set of recommendations “by the end of 2020.”