Comedian Bernie Mac gets honorary Chicago street

Fans, family and star’s former grade school principal mark the occasion.

February 28, 2012

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(WBEZ/Natalie Moore)

Listen to Natalie Moore, Brian Babylon and Mary Lindsey discuss Bernie Mac with Steve Edwards on Afternoon Shift

The late comedian Bernie Mac grew up in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood. Now there’s an honorary Bernie Mac Street there, just steps from the home he grew up in at 69th and Sangamon.

Hundreds of fans, family, friends and area students came out to the street name’s unveiling Wednesday morning.

Mac - born Bernard McCullough - died at age 50 from complications from pneumonia in 2008. He also suffered from the disease sarcoidosis. Mac starred in an eponymous sitcom about family life — a riff off of one of his most beloved stand-up routines from the 2000 movie The Original Kings of Comedy.

Mac’s former elementary school principal remembered that her former charge wanted to be a comedian at a young age.

Effie McHenry, former principal at Wentworth Elementary in Englewood, said little Bernie would get in trouble at school for telling jokes.

“His sixth grade teacher used Bernie’s skills. She said if you get all your work finished the last 15 minutes of class, Bernie can tell his jokes. So she used it as a positive,” McHenry said. She added that Mac gave more than $50,000 to the school after he achieved fame.

Mac’s daughter, Je'Niece McCullough, got choked up talking about her late father while many onlookers wiped tears from their faces.

“I hope that this street naming is a beacon of light in this community, that when you look at that street name you realize that you can do whatever you want to do. As everyone else said, he was a dreamer. He had the fortitude and courage to continue with those dreams,” McCullough said.

Mac worked many jobs before getting his proverbial big break in 1990, when he won first place in the Miller Lite Comedy Search. He then landed a spot on HBO’s Def Comedy Jam. Mac was also a fixture on Chicago’s stand-up circuit.

Mac’s notable films include Friday, How to Be a Player, Bad Santa, Charlie’s Angels Full Throttle and Ocean’s 13.

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