Margaret Burroughs’ honor hits a snag

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Margaret Burroughs’ name could be put on the 31st Street Beach, Park and Harbor. | Sun-Times file photo

Smokey Robinson gave an amazing speech when he accepted his BET Lifetime Achievement Award on Sunday night.

“You didn’t start this, and you’re also not at the end of the line,” the Motown legend told the star-studded audience. “So don’t be so full of yourselves.”

The superstar reminded his colleagues — and the rest of us — that if we’re blessed to be influential, not to let our egos get in the way.

It’s a message that is particularly relevant when it comes to politicians.

Right now, Springfield is a battleground of dueling egos. When it’s over, the people who are going to be wounded are the ones who are dependent on government working for them.

They could be the elderly or disabled children or the single parents who depend on subsidized day care.

Smokey’s words came to mind on Monday as I tried to figure out why local politicians haven’t sealed the deal on naming the 31st Street Beach and Harbor in honor Margaret Burroughs.

Burroughs was one of the founders of the Du Sable Museum and a longtime member of the Chicago Park District Board.

But she was also an artist, poet, writer and philanthropist.

The Chicago Park District and Mayor Rahm Emanuel were this close to reaching an agreement that would designate the park and beach in honor Burroughs, according to sources.

But U.S. Rep. Bobby L. Rush, D-Ill., is demanding that the harbor also bear her name.

“We are still negotiating. We expect to have some resolution before the next Chicago Park District Board meeting. Right now we are far apart,” Rush said.

Ald. William Burns (4th) noted the beach would have the most historical significance for African Americans.

“I support naming the beach after her. That was where the 1919 race riots began and that is where African Americans have traditionally gone,” he said.

Frankly, the harbor is an added bonus.

It was built as part of Chicago’s failed bid to host the 2016 Olympics and was financed through revenue bonds — money the city expected to fully recoup.

The Chicago Park District has to increase the number of leases for boat slips before it can even sell the naming rights for the harbor to a private corporation.

If that doesn’t happen, Burns said, the park district would have to go into its general fund to pay back the revenue bonds, something that could affect funding for programming.

“They have to find ways to monetize that harbor,” Burns said.

Obviously, this isn’t the kind of thing the average person cares about. Most of us don’t own a rowboat let alone something that would have to be parked in a boatslip.

I’ve only heard from one person who opposed naming the beach to honor Burroughs.

“If that harbor is named for anyone it should only be Eugene Williams. He alone has earned this honor. His very blood cries out for this honor,” wrote a reader who regularly emails me.

Eugene Williams was the name of the 17-year-old whose drowning on July 27, 1919, sparked one of the worst race riots in the country.

This decision is going to come down to two people in a room.

Hopefully, they’ll heed Smokey’s advice and leave their egos at home.

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