Chicago’s most famous roadway could soon be renamed to honor the Black man known as the city’s first non-Native resident and credited with its founding: Jean Baptiste Point DuSable.
Aldermen are set to vote Wednesday on changing Lake Shore Drive to “Jean Baptiste Point du Sable Drive” from Hollywood Avenue to 67th Street. The proposal’s sponsors say the change would be only to the roadway’s outer drive, to avoid thousands of address changes for people who live and businesses that operate along the west side of the lakeshore.
DuSable was a Haitian explorer who developed a trading post along the Chicago River in the late 1700s. DuSable sold the land by 1800, and moved to Peoria. Advocates and supporting aldermen say racism has prevented DuSable from getting the recognition he deserves.
“People of Chicago know that the primary reason(s) a nervous few may want to oppose [the name change] … are fear, unconscious bias, and the big money donors who are not ready to accept change,” said Ephraim Martin, head of the group Black Heroes Matter, at a recent city meeting.
That group was formed out of the protests against the killing of George Floyd, but Martin says some members of the group have been fighting for DuSable’s recognition for the past 25 years.
Martin made his remarks at a contentious committee meeting in late April that illustrated how important the name change is to the aldermen who’ve been championing it. At one point, one of the proposal’s sponsors, 17th ward Ald. David Moore, alleged the mayor’s office was being racist by trying to substitute the ordinance to account for certain technicalities in language (such as using Street versus Avenue), and making clear that the name change would be only to the outer, not the residential, portion of the road.
A shouting match ensued, leading to a brief recess, and one alderman playing “Kumbaya” from a cell phone. Ultimately, aldermen voted to approve Moore’s ordinance, without technical changes, sending it to the full city council for the vote expected this week.
Lake Shore Drive has donned the same name since 1946, according to the Chicago Public Library. But there’s recent precedent for renaming a major Chicago roadway. In 2019, the city installed the signs that renamed parts of Congress Parkway for Ida B. Wells, honoring the Chicago journalist and anti-lynching activist. That was the first major street name change in 50 years, said the proposal’s co-sponsor, 4th ward Ald. Sophia King, who pushed for the Wells change in 2018.
She said if passed, the DuSable ordinance may require several places that are situated on the east side of Lake Shore Drive to change their address, but that may be beneficial.
“Museum campus might have to change their stationery, but I think that’s a great thing as well. I think DuSable Drive may bring marketing opportunities and set us aside as a true world class city that celebrates diversity,” King said.
Author, historian, and Wells’ great-granddaughter, Michelle Duster, said she’s cheering for the DuSable name change on Wednesday. Duster said she was nearly brought to tears when seeing the final Ida B Wells signs were installed along Chicago’s highways, pointing motorists to the Ida B. Wells exit.
“All I keep hoping is that people won’t just hear the name and say ‘Ok we’re getting off at Ida B Wells without knowing who she was,” Duster said. “I’m hoping if they haven’t heard of her they can just Google her name and find out who this woman is who is so prominently honored in the center of Chicago.”
DuSable’s name is currently affixed to several Chicago establishments, including a small monument, a high school, and the DuSable Museum of African American History.
Aldermen have a busy day ahead of them Wednesday, with several other big ticket items on the agenda.
They’ll be asked to require that tow truck operators be licensed to work within the city of Chicago.
In addition, another mega development could soon come to fruition just north of downtown. Aldermen could green light the rezoning of a large swath of land between the Gold Coast and Cabrini Green, next to where the Moody Bible Institute is currently located.
JDL Development wants to build multiple high-rise towers with more than 2500 apartments and condos on the site. Aldermen will vote on the proposed rezoning on Tuesday and if approved, the measure will go to the full City Council for approval on Wednesday.
A development across the city in Bridgeport — the restoration of the Ramova Theater — also seeks council approval Wednesday. The group Urban Revival Chicago is asking aldermen to approve an expanded tax increment financing district that would give the project $6.8 million, up from the $6.6 million previously approved.
The project would turn the dilapidated theater back into an entertainment venue and restaurant. Aldermen approved the increase in committee Monday, when 2nd ward Ald. Brian Hopkins said his parents dated at the Ramova as teenagers.
“I’m looking forward to my first bowl of Ramova Grill chili after it reopens,” he said.
A proposed ordinance to publish a database of police misconduct investigations got punted to next month. The long-debated move would have made public misconduct investigations from the past two decades.
The Office of Inspector General advocated for the creation of such a database, but pulled support last week after changes were made. Lightfoot touted the changes as a compromise, but others, including Deputy Inspector General Deborah Witzburg and the Better Government Association, said the updated proposal had been “watered down.”
WBEZ’s Becky Vevea contributed reporting.
Mariah Woelfel covers city government at WBEZ. You can follow her on Twitter @MariahWoelfel.