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Lincoln Park, named after President Abrahamn Lincoln, is Chicago's largest public park. It is located on the city's North Side. Chicago resident, Ms. Simone, says she frequents this park, but wants to see more parks on the North Side named after black Americans.

Chicago park names recognize influential black Americans, but why not more?

by patrick clarke
Feb 6, 2013


Chicago Park District

Bessie Coleman park in Hyde Park is one of the 44 Chicago parks named a black American.

The Chicago Park District has commemorated Black History Month this month by highlighting the 44 parks across the city that take their names from African Americans who have made significant contributions to Chicago, America and the world.

The latest honor was bestowed upon Hattie B. Kay Williams, 1922-1990, and Izora Davis, 1952-2006, just nine months ago when Park No. 532 at 4101 S. Lake Park Ave. was given a more personal name - Williams-Davis Park. Both women were community activists in Chicago who dedicated themselves to improving the lives of underprivileged citizens. The request to name the park after them was made by Davis’ sister, Julia Liddell, in 2011.

The Park District manages 580 parks, leaving some residents to ask why so few are named after black people and why most of them are found on the South Side.

“I don’t see any parks named after blacks on the North Side,” said a black Lake View resident who asked not to be identified.  “We don’t all live on the South Side. We are diverse. We live all over.”

An accurate number of the parks named after people of other ethnicities could not be obtained from the park district.

While a few African American-named parks do exist on the North Side, Dr. Martha Biondi, director of graduate studies and associate professor of African American studies and history at Northwestern University, said the underrepresentation reflects social and residential segregation.

“Blacks have had restricted access to parks,” Biondi said. “ In some ways the ability of black Chicagoans to get parks named after blacks is probably of more recent vintage than whites.”

“And, then, who are the officials making the decisions?,” Biondi asked. “Predominantly white. This wasn’t a priority for them.”

Marta Juaniza, assistant press secretary at the park district, said the naming of parks in Chicago after influential black Americans began in the 1960s. Biondi said that came on the heels of the Civil Rights Movement that sought to outlaw racial discrimination against blacks.

“The Chicago Park District generally does not solicit naming,” Juaniza said. The public is allowed to propose names to the park district’s board of commissioners.

“Naming parks after African Americans recognizes the black contribution in Chicago, the black experience in Chicago,” Biondi said. “That it’s longstanding, that it’s diverse, that it’s a story of achievement and struggle.”

Gwendolyn Brooks Park, at 4534-40 S. Greenwood Ave., pays tribute to one of Chicago’s most acclaimed and beloved poets. Brooks, 1917-2000, won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1950. She was appointed Poet Laureate of Illinois in 1968 and Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1985.

Cole Park, located at 361 E. 85th St., salutes world famous singer Nat King Cole, 1919-1965, who grew up in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago. In 1957, Cole became the first African American to host his own weekly network television show.

“I grew up listening to him singing songs that everyone loved,” said Emmy award-winning broadcaster Ray Metoyer, who is based in Atlanta. “Then, he got a chance to host a show and people loved it. I watched the show with my family and was so proud to see a black man host a show.”

Harold Lee Washington, 1922-1987, was Chicago’s first African American mayor, who served from 1983 until his death in 1987. Washington Park at 5200 S. Hyde Park Blvd. pays tribute to him.

Not all of the parks were named after blacks who made their names in Chicago.

Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, 1858-1931, performed the world’s first successful open heart surgery in 1893. Williams Park is at 2710 S. Dearborn St.

Bessie Coleman Park, at 5445 S. Drexel Ave., is named after the nation’s first African American female pilot.

Baseball great Jackie Robinson was the first African American to play major league baseball when he was signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. His name has been memorialized at Robinson Park, 10540 S. Morgan St.

The most famous of the honorees, Civil Rights Activist Martin Luther King Jr., 1929-1968, is celebrated at the Martin Luther King Jr. Park and Family Entertainment Center at 1200-1222 W. 77th St.

The Park District will host a series of events in February to celebrate Black History Month.