The Bud Billiken Parade in Bronzeville in 1952. | Sun-Times Archives

Bud Billiken Day Parade reaches 89th year

SHARE Bud Billiken Day Parade reaches 89th year
SHARE Bud Billiken Day Parade reaches 89th year

The Bud Billiken Day Parade, a well-known and beloved end of summer and back-to-school tradition, returns Saturday for its 89th year.

Since 1929, people have walked through Bronzeville and Washington Park on the city’s South Side in a parade that symbolizes pride, happiness and hope for the children of Chicago.

Who is Bud Billiken?

Founder of the Chicago Defender, Robert Sengstacke Abbott, came up with the name Bud Billiken as a way to organize the hardworking newsboys who sold the paper. It came from a youth section in the Defender, based on a fictional Billiken character – a guardian angel of children around the world, according to the Bud Billiken website.

Myiti Sengstacke-Rice, Abbott’s great grand-niece and the current president and CEO of the Chicago Defender Charities, which organizes the parade, said Abbott gave the boys bikes and instruments. He also created the newsboys band that boasted crooner Nat “King” Cole and bandleader Lionel Hampton among its ranks.

“Abbott was adamant about supporting the community,” Sengstacke-Rice said, pointing to his leading role in the Great Migration, which encouraged African Americans in the South to move to northern states.

“This year’s theme is in line with the very foundation of what Abbott did with the first parade and his mission and vision overall.”

The Parade

The parade will step off at 10 a.m. and head south on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, starting from Oakwood Boulevard to 51st Street. From there, the route continues onto Elsworth Drive (in Washington Park) from 51st Street to Garfield Boulevard (55th Street). Those in the parade end at Garfield Boulevard (55th Street) and Elsworth Drive.

The grand marshals at this year’s parade will be actor Deon Cole, who has appeared in “Grown-ish,” “Conan” and “Black-ish,” and rapper Vic Mensa. Former grand marshals include President Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Chance the Rapper, Muhammad Ali and James Brown.

The parade is now the second largest in the country.

The Festival

After the parade, marchers and those just looking to enjoy the day can hang out in Washington Park for the Back to Bud festival from 1 to 4 p.m. Bringing a grill is highly encouraged.

The theme of this year’s festival is “Back to School, Back to Work and Back to Life,” with focuses on education, workforce development, and health and wellness, Sengstacke-Rice said.

There will also be pavilions for visitors to get back to school supplies, help with their resumes and medical check ups.

“By bringing all of these sponsors and partners together it creates an opportunity for everyone to connect and find year-round support,” Sengstacke-Rice said.

There will also be face-painting tents and DJs Ramonski Luv, DJ Phantom and Sundance, among others, will play ’80s, ’90s, gospel and house music.

“There’s a lot to be said for any event or institution that can be around for almost 90 years, and that says a lot about how rich it is and how it inspires people,” Sengstacke-Rice said. “Regardless of what goes on in our communities, people always look forward to the Bud Billiken Parade.”

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