Wanted: New names for Chicago’s Jackson and Douglas parks

Demonstrations protesting the death of George Floyd have promoted a reexamination around the world of racially troubling symbols and monuments.

SHARE Wanted: New names for Chicago’s Jackson and Douglas parks

Jackson Park, one of Chicago’s most prized parks, should not be named for an American president best known as a slaveholder.

Victor Hilitski/Sun-Times

There is no reason why a Chicago park should still carry the moniker of President Andrew Jackson, a slaveholder and racist whose policies caused the deaths of thousands of Native Americans.

And yet there it is.

But as demonstrations against the Minneapolis police killing of African American George Floyd have led to public Confederate monuments coming down in the South — and even NASCAR now banning the Rebel battleflag at its events — Jackson Park, a lakeside Eden on the predominantly black South Side, remains named in Jackson’s honor.

The Chicago Park District should get with the times. Change the name of Jackson Park.

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Monuments reconsidered

Removing symbols and public monuments of slavery and the Confederacy has been a vigorously debated issue in recent years. But it has picked up a certain urgency in the wake of Floyd’s death last month.

Military officials this week are openly ruminating over changing the names of a dozen bases named for Confederate military commanders.

President Donald Trump, of course — as stated in a Wednesday tweet with the capitalization of a pasted-together ransom note — opposes the proposal:

“These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage, and a . . . history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom. The United States of America trained and deployed our HEROES on these Hallowed Grounds, and won two World Wars. Therefore, my administration will not even consider the renaming of these Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations.”

In just the last week, city crews have removed Confederate monuments in Louisville; Jacksonville, Florida; Nashville, Tennessee; Alexandria, Virginia, and Mobile, Alabama.

Others were torn down or defaced by protestors, including a 112-year-old statue of Robert E. Lee that stood outside a Montgomery, Alabama, high school named after the Confederate general.

It’s even happening in other countries. As a result of Floyd protests there, Brussels officials on Tuesday hauled off a 150-year-old public statue of King Leopold of Belgium, whose armies seized central Africa and slaughtered at least 10 million Congolese in the 19th century.

And on Sunday, protesters in England pulled down a bronze statue of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston and rolled it into Bristol Harbor — where Colston’s slave ships were once docked more than 350 years ago.

Jackson was no prize

As president, Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which forced 60,000 Native Americans from the South to territories west of the Mississippi River. Thousands of Native Americans died of disease, starvation and exposure during the forced march to the territories in what became known as the “Trail of Tears.”

“ ‘Who do we want to honor as a society?’ Seems like a good time to have those conversations.”

Jackson also owned the Hermitage, a 1,000-acre cotton plantation near Nashville where as many of 150 black people were enslaved at its peak.

The Hermitage is a tourist site today, devoted to Jackson and his history.

But its website doesn’t shy away from telling how Jackson amassed his fortune there.

“In all reality, slavery was the source of Andrew Jackson’s wealth,” the site says. “The more land Andrew Jackson accrued, the more slaves he procured to work it. Thus, the Jackson family’s survival was made possible by the profit garnered from the crops worked by the enslaved on a daily basis.”

Jackson died in 1845. Chicago parks officials in 1880 asked the public to pick a new name for what had been Lake Park. The people chose Andrew Jackson.

‘Who do we want to honor?’

A Chicago Park District spokesperson didn’t respond to our request for comment for this editorial. The agency has shied away from renaming Jackson Park, choosing to hide behind its practice of not renaming parks that already have official, rather than placeholder, names.

The district has wrongly sat on a proposal to rename Stephen A. Douglas Park in honor of abolitionist and orator Frederick Douglass.

The West Side Park is named after the Illinois senator who debated Abraham Lincoln in 1858 senate race and passed legislation expanding the Illinois Central Railroad, making the Chicago the nation’s rail transit hub.

But Douglas was no Douglass.

Rather than abolishing slavery, he thought individual states, rather the federal government, should decide if servitude would remain legal. Douglas also inherited a 2,500 acre Mississippi plantation that had belonged to his father-in-law.

More than 6,200 people have signed an online petition by elementary school students at the private Vision Leadership Academy in the South Loop to rename the park.

Juanita Irizarry, executive director of the advocacy group Friends of the Parks, said renaming the two parks is worthy of discussion.

“It communicates that we value the equity questions and the racism questions that are asked by society [now],” she said. “ ‘Who do we want to honor as a society?’ Seems like a good time to have those conversations.”

There could be no better time.

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