All it would take is one more “S.”
A group of fifth-grade children proposed an excellent idea last week to rename one of Chicago’s most charming and historic parks, Douglas, so that it honors a man who worked for African-American rights instead of a man who defended the continuation and expansion of slavery.
It’s one of those ideas that makes perfect sense the moment you hear it.
Douglas Park, straddling Chicago’s North Lawndale and Little Village neighborhoods, is named for Stephen A. Douglas, a 19th Century senator from Illinois best known for his defense of slavery on the grounds that the matter should be decided locally by voters. If a territory or new state chose to allow slavery, he argued, Congress and the courts should not interfere.
The children of Village Leadership Academy in the South Loop have proposed that Douglas Park be renamed Douglass Park — note the extra “S” — and honor Frederick Douglass, the escaped slave and great abolitionist who also championed the rights of women, Native Americans and immigrants.
We’re tempted to say the name change is of particular importance because Douglas Park serves heavily African-American and Latino neighborhoods, but that does the rest of Chicago a disservice. We’d like to think every Chicagoan would prefer to honor a true American hero instead of an enabler of our nation’s greatest shame.
The children made their proposal at last Wednesday’s meeting of the Chicago Park District board, according to DNAinfo Chicago. Ald. Michael Scott Jr., who represents the 24th Ward, immediately expressed support for the idea, and Friends of the Parks tell us they think it is “fabulous.”
“Changing Douglas Park to Douglass Park is an easy change that would have great symbolic significance,” said Juanita Irizarry, executive director of Friends of the Parks. “In a city where we are plagued with such difficult circumstances for minority youth, the fact that the idea was generated and presented via a civic engagement project of African-American elementary school children makes this opportunity even more poignant and timely.”
Renaming a park in Chicago is not that unusual. Buckthorn Park on the South Side recently was renamed for the young shooting victim Hadiya Pendleton. A part of Burnham Park was renamed for the Chicago artist and educator Margaret Burroughs.
Irizarry’s one caution is that the name change should not be made until the nearby community has been fully consulted. The impact will be greater, she said, if everybody knows the whole story of the “significance of Stephen Douglas versus Frederick Douglass.”
Which is to say, there really is more than just an “S” involved.