The Park District Board voted unanimously rename Douglas Park for Frederick Douglass. Credit: Chicago Park District; Wikimedia Commons

NORTH LAWNDALE — How can North Lawndale’s parks, statues and monuments better reflect the history and heritage of the people living in the neighborhood?

As part of the city’s ongoing review of problematic statues and art, local leaders and city officials will examine the cultural assets in North Lawndale at a virtual panel at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

At the panel, leaders will discuss evaluating the monuments in North Lawndale and discuss what new monuments could be created in the neighborhood that honor the values of the people living there.

Panelists include Marcus E. Davis, Senior Program Specialist for Teens Re-Imagining Art, Community, and Environment for the Chicago Park District; Shelia McNary, head of the North Lawndale Coordinating Council Art & Culture Committee; Blanche Killingsworth-Suggs; director of Lawndale Historical Society; Jonathan Kelley, co-founder of the Lawndale Pop-up Spot; Meida McNeil, artist and Arts & Culture Manager for the Chicago Park District; Latham Zearfoss, artist and Cultural Liaison for the Cultural Asset Mapping Project; and William Estrada, an arts educator and multidisciplinary artist.

“I want us to start reclaiming our public spaces by putting up monuments of people that matter to us, who did great things for us,” McNary said.

Chicago’s review of monuments began last summer after people protesting the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis tried to tear down the 30-foot tall Christopher Columbus statue in Grant Park. Demonstrators argued Columbus’s legacy of kidnapping and enslaving more than a thousand indigenous people and ushering in an era of colonialism should not be celebrated.

In February, the city released a list of 40 potentially problematic statues, asking for residents’ feedback on what to do with them. Those statues were identified for public discussion because they promoted white supremacy; presented an inaccurate or demeaning characterization of American Indians; memorialized racist individuals or people connected to slavery and genocide; presented selective, one-sided views of history; or failed to include the stories of women and people of color.

Days after the city removed the Columbus statue, a years-long campaign to rename the largest park in North Lawndale finally bore fruit when the Park District’s board agreed to begin the process to strip the name of Civil War-era U.S. Senator Stephen Douglas from the park, citing his racist past.

Students at Village Leadership Academy first appealed to the board to change the name in 2017 because they felt it was inappropriate for the park in a majority Black neighborhood to celebrate one of history’s most notorious pro-slavery advocates. The park now honors abolitionists Frederick and Anna Murray Douglass.

The success of the students’ campaign set a precedent for the city to strip the names of other controversial historical figures from parks, streets, schools and libraries.

Though the name of the park has been changed, other public symbols of white supremacy remain in the neighborhood, like Douglas Boulevard, a main thoroughfare in Lawndale still named for the pro-slavery senator.

The Wednesday panel will allow residents to take stock of other opportunities to rethink old monuments and imagine new ones “that reflect our history for generations to come,” McNary said.

“We need to do a monument of Frederick and Anna Douglass in the park so we can further the education of who they are and why we renamed it,” McNary said.

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

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