CHICAGO — A proposal to rename Chicago’s iconic Lake Shore Drive after the city’s first non-indigenous settler was approved by a key city committee Thursday over the objection of Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
After a “tumultuous” meeting that included accusations of racism, the Transportation Committee unanimously approved the proposal, first introduced by Ald. David Moore (17th) in 2019.
If approved by the full City Council, 17 miles of outer Lake Shore Drive from Hollywood Avenue to East 67th Street would be renamed for Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, a Black man believed to be of Haitian descent. Du Sable arrived here establishing a trading post and farm at the mouth of the Chicago River in 1779.
Ahead of the vote, the committee took an hour-long detour to discuss a proposed last-minute amendment to the proposal from the Lightfoot administration that clarified the name change and extended it further south than Moore’s ordinance required.
An infuriated Moore rejected the changes, calling the move “racist bullshit” and a “last day gameplan” from opponents to maneuver against the ordinance he’s tried to pass for more than a year.
Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) agreed, saying Lightfoot’s administration could have conferred with Moore before the meeting instead of bringing changes to the committee and blindsiding the lead sponsor.
“This is very disrespectful to Ald. Moore and Ald. (Sophia) King, and it just seems real racist to me. This is the founder of Chicago…and all of a sudden now you all throw a monkey wrench in it. This is why our city doesn’t move because we work in silos,” she said.
Gia Biagi, commissioner of the Department of Transportation, later apologized to Moore and others for not circulating and explaining the changes earlier. She said they were only meant to codify the intent of Moore’s ordinance.
Several aldermen sought clarity on what was being voted on during the meeting, concerned Moore’s ordinance would affect the addresses of people living along inner Lake Shore Drive if the proposal was not worded properly.
Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said he needed “absolute” certainty residents would not be affected before voting on the measure.
Ultimately, the committee never accepted the late amendments and passed Moore’s ordinance unanimously.
Moore said the name change was long overdue and would connect Chicagoans.
“This will bring us together even more,” he said.
At a press conference, Lightfoot didn’t explicitly oppose the name change, but said she hoped aldermen would consider alternative proposals to honor Du Sable.
“Du Sable has not been properly recognized, in my view, as the founder of the city,” she said.
She proposed investing in DuSable Park near Navy Pier. The Chicago Park District is renovating the land east of Lake Shore Drive as part of the development that will plug the hole at the former Chicago Spire site.
“We’ve got the resources to make that happen, we will then connect up — both physically and thematically — that park with turning the Riverwalk into the DuSable Riverwalk” with three statues of Du Sable and his wife, Kitiwaha.
Tremell Williams, one of several members of the Black Heroes Matter coalition, spoke during public comment ahead of the vote as the group has done for months. Williams said he understood the complications and pushback to the proposal, but urged the committee to be on the “right side of history” and honor Du Sable.
King, whose South Side lakefront ward would include much of the renamed road, said the change would make Chicago “even more iconic” and that the issue reminded her of the fight to rename Congress Parkway after Ida B. Wells, a pioneering Black journalist and anti-lynching advocate.
“I think these are all unconscious biases that come out, and that individuals strategically put fear about money, and about marketing, and about all the things that really aren’t that important but do change the minds of people,” King said.
“We had no problem changing White Sox Park — very iconic — and several other icons. No problem. So marketing should not stop us from taking this moment of reckoning in our world, in our country and in our city to do what’s right.”
Moore first introduced the ordinance in fall 2019, but said he “respectfully agreed” to hold the item until after the 2019 budget season. He then agreed to limit the name change to outer Lake Shore Drive to limit the cost of the proposed name change.
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 proposed 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.
In addition to a school and the DuSable Museum of African American History in Hyde Park, a small monument sits near the DuSable Bridge on Michigan Avenue.
After the meeting, Lightfoot spokeswoman Jordan Troy said the Mayor would continue to speak with the City Council “to find a way to honor” Du Sable.
“As the Mayor mentioned earlier today, Jean Baptiste Point du Sable has played a critical role in Chicago’s history and has not received the proper recognition he deserves. As the first permanent non-indigenous settler of our city, it is important that we honor and recognize his contributions in a meaningful way. We look forward to continuing this conversation with the City Council and various stakeholders to find a way to honor his notable legacy,” she said.
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