A plan to rename Lake Shore Drive after Chicago’s first permanent non-Indigenous settler, Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable (bust of his likeness on the left), will be considered by City Council Wednesday. Credit: w4nd3rl0st/Flickr

CHICAGO — Chicago’s iconic Lake Shore Drive could be renamed after the city’s first non-indigenous settler Wednesday — over the objection of Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

City Council is set to consider a controversial plan to rename Lake Shore Drive for Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, Chicago’s first permanent, non-indigenous settler. Du Sable, a Black man believed to be of Haitian descent, arrived here establishing a trading post and farm at the mouth of the Chicago River in 1779.

The name change would affect 17 miles of outer Lake Shore Drive from Hollywood Avenue to East 67th Street. It’s expected to cost $2.25 million, according to the Sun-Times.

The Transportation Committee unanimously approved the proposal at a tumultuous meeting in April. It was first introduced by by Ald. David Moore (17th) in 2019, who said the name change is long overdue and will connect Chicagoans.

“This will bring us together even more,” he said.

Although that City Council committee unanimously approved the name change, it’s possible a heated debate or last-minute maneuver in City Council will derail or delay the Du Sable plan. It just takes two aldermen to “defer and publish,” which would delay the vote for one meeting. And Lightfoot herself could veto the name change.

Last month, 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.

A statue for Jean Baptiste Point du Sable along the Magnificent Mile on Monday, Dec. 21 in downtown Chicago. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

 Ald. Sophia King (4th), 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 in April.  

“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.”

Other aldermen who represent stretches of Lake Shore Drive, including Ald. Tom Tunnney (44th), have fielded concerned calls from people who live on Lake Shore Drive, according to the Sun-Times.

Tremell Williams, one of several members of the Black Heroes Matter coalition, has said he understands the complications and pushback to the proposal. But honoring Du Sable will put City Council on the “right side” of history, he said.

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.

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