City’s Douglas Park to get new name — or another ‘S’
North Lawndale’s Douglas Park will soon get a new name.
The Chicago Park District board voted unanimously at a special meeting Wednesday to begin the process of changing the West Side park’s name to commemorate abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who escaped slavery and became a well-known speaker and author, advocating for equality and human rights.
“It is time to right the wrongs of history and reclaim our public space,” Sheila McNary, a member of the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council, said at Wednesday’s meeting. “We also recommit ourselves to racial and social justice, our commitment to social equity.”
Proponents have pushed the name change for years. Stephen Douglas, a U.S. senator from Illinois, owned slaves and lost to Abraham Lincoln in the 1860 presidential election. The park, at 1401 S. Sacramento Drive, was named after him in 1869.
“We have not ever stripped the name of a historical figure from a park and replaced it with someone else, which, in this instance, I don’t have a problem with that,” said board President Avis LaVelle.
The board decided on a two-step process, separating the vote to remove the objectionable name from the vote for a new name.
Next is a 45-day public comment period to ensure the new name has public support.
Still, at the meeting, LaVelle said commissioners “know” the park will be renamed after Frederick Douglass, given the community has already spoken in favor.
Earlier this year, an anonymous artist painted an extra “S” on a Douglas Park sign, McNary told the Sun-Times.
Some Illinois lawmakers already have called for the removal of a statue of Douglas from his tomb in Bronzeville. Earlier this month, the University of Chicago removed two tributes to Douglas. Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan also has called for removing memorials to Douglas in the state Capitol.
Students from Village Leadership Academy, 800 S. Wells St., have advocated to rename the park for Douglass since 2016. They also wanted to honor his wife, Anna Murray-Douglass, who helped him escape slavery.
Jennifer Pagán, a former academy teacher still involved in the name-change effort, said she is excited her students are finally being heard, but that excitement is layered with frustration because they weren’t invited to the board’s special meeting.
She thinks it is because “they knew that our demands extend past just a name change and that we really are calling for an end to all white supremacist monuments, statues and landmarks throughout the city.”
The board did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Earlier this year, someone added an extra “S” to this Douglas Park sign.