Jamaican loses round two of battle to honour black founder of Chicago

Jamaican Ephraim Martin and his Black Heroes Matter (BHM) coalition ran into a setback last Wednesday when the Chicago City Council blocked a vote to rename the iconic Lake Shore Drive (LSD) after its black founder Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable.

Crying foul, Martin declared that, “despite the political tactics used to delay the affirmative vote”, the coalition would continue to fight to rename outer Lake Shore Drive the Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable Drive.

Martin, who left Jamaica in 1982 for Chicago, and has lived their ever since, said that after enduring a nearly four-hour- long city council meeting, led by Mayor Lori Lightfoot, their compelling presentations fell on deaf ears, adding that “it was politics as usual”.

Said Martin: “This was a blatant attempt to delay and prolong the approval of the ordinance because the mayor knows that we have the votes. Her gangster tactics must stop!”

Martin and his campaign team, supported by a slew of prominent Chicago personalities, mostly black, with strong public backing, went to the council meeting needing 26 out of 50 members to approve their petition on behalf of DuSable.

The petition also calls for a monument and a holiday to honour DuSable — a black Haitian man who is said to have been a multi — lingual fur trader flourishing in the grain industry 240 years ago and settled 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.

Ahead of the meeting, and after a year of intense campaigning by the BHM coalition of 80 organisations, the Chicago City Council’s Transportation and Public Way Committee unanimously approved the controversial petition on April 29, 2021.

“It’s only a first step and a partial victory, but we know it’s the leap of faith that we know will ensure total victory for the city of Chicago. I am confident that when the full council membership of 50 votes on May 26 the quest for victory will be complete,” said a hopeful Martin afterwards.

But getting the name change was far from being a done deal. 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.

When the full council met Wednesday, all hopes were dashed. According to Martin, when the petition was brought before the city council, chairperson Mayor Lori Lightfoot would only recognise those calling for the ordinance to be deferred and published.

“She then quickly rushed the approval through, further delaying the full city council vote to rename Lake Shore Drive to DuSable Drive,” complained Martin. “Alderman David Moore (17th Ward) and 4th Ward Alderwoman Sophia King objected and attempted to call for the vote several times but to no avail.

“Dismissing our appeals as disruptions, Mayor Lightfoot pushed the balance of the agenda forward and within 20 minutes called upon 7th Ward Alderman Gregory Mitchell to move to adjourn the meeting.

“Later in the day, during her own press conference, Mayor Lightfoot responded to a question from media concerning the deferred DuSable ordinance by saying that she is all for doing something grand for Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable, the city’s founder, but didn’t believe that simply changing the ‘iconic Lake Shore Drive to DuSable Drive’ was it.”

The Black Heroes Matter coalition believes that the name change would demonstrate the mayor’s and city leaders’ support for positive change in city government.

“This city has a long, deeply entrenched history of institutional racism and today was a prime example of it. This strategic move by the mayor was to deny DuSable, the ‘Father of Chicago’, his respect and honour,” said Martin.

The native of St Thomas is known for establishing the Chicago Music Awards and the International Reggae Music Awards that became the International Reggae and World Music Awards, with emphasis on Caribbean and African music genres, under his Martin’s International company.

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