Chicago offers more money but no street name to honour city’s black founder

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has upped the ante, increasing her offer to US$30 million — from the previous US$20 million — to honour the black founder of the city, but sticking to her guns in not naming the iconic Lake Shore Drive (LSD) after the Haitian.

Jamaican Ephraim Martin, who has led a year-long campaign by his Black Heroes Matter (BHM) coalition, declared the mayor’s counter-offer a “partial victory” but remained equally adamant that the street must be named after Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable.

DuSable is described as a multilingual fur trader, flourishing in the grain industry 240 years ago and settling on 800 acres of land near the Chicago River. But he is little known as the founder of Chicago, a fact not taught in schools.

“We can declare partial victory, that because of the BHM Coalition campaign, the mayor is proposing US$30 million to build a major monument, start the process of building the DuSable Park that was authorised 34 years ago by the first black mayor of Chicago, the late Harold Washington, and develop a DuSable River walk, among other honours,” Martin told supporters.

“However, it must include, the renaming of Lake Shore Drive as DuSable Drive, as first priority,” said the St Thomas native who maintains that the importance of the black founder of America’s third-largest city was being downplayed because of racism.

Martin noted that some time after DuSable established Chicago, the city’s boundaries were drawn up but the streets were named only after white men, and efforts since then to honour him had met with stiff resistance.

The Black Heroes Matter coalition suffered a setback last Wednesday when their efforts failed to get the full Chicago City Council to approve a petition renaming LSD the Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable Drive.

The coalition accused Mayor Lightfoot of refusing to recogniSe the two Aldermen — David Moore and Sophia King — who were piloting the petition through the council, after a committee of the council had approved it on April 29 this year.

Instead, she accepted a motion deferring the vote to June 23 in order to publish the ordinance, and promptly ended the meeting.

Martin said the main objectives of BHM continued to be renaming the Outer Lake Shore Drive after DuSable, a full city holiday, and a minimum 25-foot monument in his honour. The BHM is also calling for an end to systemic racism, including police brutality, as well as a change to the US Postal Zip Code System.

The mayor, in announcing her proposed US$30-million plan, accused the Black Heroes Matter movement and the supporting Aldermen of “wanting LSD or nothing”.

Lake Shore Drive is on the so-called gold coast, near the Magnificent Mile where billionaires and multimillionaires live and shop. And they are strongly opposed to a name change.

“It is very iconic and she doesn’t want it to change. But we believe that this change, after 240 years, will attract more visitors to Chicago. When our objectives are accomplished, Chicago can say it is on the road to end systemic racism,” Martin told the Jamaica Observer.

— Desmond Allen

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