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Lightfoot celebrates something she tried to stop: renaming Lake Shore Drive to honor Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable

The mayor and others gathered at Buckingham Fountain to launch the installation of 12 signs with DuSable’s full name. More than 80 smaller signs say simply “DuSable Lake Shore Drive.” Cost to produce and install: about $500,000.

Black Heroes Matter Coalition members in front of a Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable Lake Shore Drive street sign, during the official unveiling of the the renamed “Jean-Baptiste Ponte DuSable Lake Shore Drive” near Buckingham Fountain, Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021.
Members of the Black Heroes Matter Coalition, which had pushed for renaming Lake Shore Drive to honor Chicago’s first non-indigenous settler, Jean-Baptiste Ponte DuSable, were at Buckingham Fountain on Thursday to celebrate the unveiling of the new signs being installed along the road.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Thursday joined politicians and community leaders to celebrate something she tried desperately to stop: renaming Chicago’s most iconic and picturesque roadway Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable Lake Shore Drive.

They gathered at Buckingham Fountain to launch the installation of 12 large highway signs — some roughly 4 feet by 6 feet, others 8 feet by 4 feet — bearing the full name. More than 80 smaller street signs simply say “DuSable Lake Shore Drive.”

Lightfoot said the $500,000 cost is “worth it” to honor a man who was “forgotten in the annals” of Chicago history.

“We needed to find a way to honor our founder,” Lightfoot said.

“In the prolonged process that it took us to get to this point, we took a lot of steps, a lot of journeys. We learned a lot about each other, about our history. But what we also learned about is how to come together. We took steps in each other’s direction to get to this important place.”

The mayor credited Ald. David Moore (17th) for “fiercely carrying” the crusade forward and Ald. Sophia King (4th) for joining him.

Ald. David Moore and Mayor Lori Lightfoot hoist DuSable Lake Shore Drive street signs on Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021 at Buckingham Fountain during the official unveiling of signs that will be installed along the renamed Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable Lake Shore Drive.
Ald. David Moore and Mayor Lori Lightfoot hoist DuSable Lake Shore Drive street signs on Thursday at Buckingham Fountain during the official unveiling of signs that will be installed along the renamed Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable Lake Shore Drive.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

King was magnanimous in return.

“Thank you, mayor, for your leadership here. We wouldn’t be here without you, as well,” she said.

The Black man of Haitian descent who was Chicago’s first non-indigenous settler finally got the honor, thanks to an on-again, off-again compromise finally approved by a divided City Council on June 25.

Three Hispanic aldermen joined 12 white aldermen in voting against the compromise.

Moore said he feels proud every time he hears a traffic reporter on radio or television say DuSable’s name.

“It feels — not only good, but it’s inspirational. It’s inspirational to know that the founder of this city, who established the first trading post, which is the foundation for the mecca of what Chicago businesses are today, is getting the recognition that he deserves,” Moore said Thursday.

“When they say ‘Illinois, the home of Ronald Reagan,’ when they say ‘Illinois, the land of Lincoln,’ all of that matters. It encourages people to hope. As we drive down DuSable Drive, it’s a drive down hope, a drive down unity and a drive down building up people.”

After overcoming some resistance on the Chicago City Council, Ald. Sophia King (4th) was able to celebrate the renaming of Lake Shore Drive.
After overcoming some resistance on the Chicago City Council, Ald. Sophia King (4th) was able to celebrate the renaming of Lake Shore Drive.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Lightfoot tried mightily to stop the name change on grounds it would inconvenience business owners and high-rise residents, confuse first responders and make it more difficult to market Chicago.

She has noted the roadway is memorialized in movies and songs — and there is value in the fact that “Lake Shore Drive” is known around the world.

At one point, Moore accused the mayor’s office of trying to block the ordinance with an alternative he views as having “racial overtones” — renaming the Dan Ryan Expressway in honor of DuSable to “keep it on the South Side.”

Lightfoot also made an offer she still intends to honor: a $40 million plan to complete DuSable Park, create an exhibit that includes statues and murals honoring DuSable at the “most traveled part” of the downtown Riverwalk and rename the entire Riverwalk in honor of DuSable.

When neither offer was accepted, mayoral allies bought more time. They encouraged Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th) to join Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) in using a parliamentary maneuver at a Council meeting in May to delay a vote on the name change.

A bust of Jean Baptiste Point DuSable stands along Michigan Avenue in Chicago.
A bust of DuSable stands along Michigan Avenue in Chicago.
Neil Steinberg/Sun-Times

Only after it was clear that Moore and King still had the votes they needed did the mayor’s forces finally offer the hybrid, keeping Lake Shore Drive in the name but giving DuSable top billing.

“This is something that shouldn’t have been so difficult. Other cities recognize their founders in very distinct ways. Cleveland is named after Cleveland. Cadillac is very well honored in Detroit. And DuSable is our founder and should be honored. Even the person who bought DuSable’s house — Kinzie — had a street named after him,” King said on the day the ordinance was approved.

“There is and has been racial overtones and resistance to having a significant recognition for our founder, who happens to be Black and of Haitian descent. It’s both conscious and unconscious.”

When indicted Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) resigned under pressure from Lightfoot as chairman of the Council’s Committee on Contracting Oversight and Equity, Moore was passed over, even though he is the vice-chairman.

Moore protested at the time, but Thursday, he told the Sun-Times he understands what happened.

“Whether it’s Daley or Rahm, mayors want people in there who are going to push their agenda. And I’m a person who pushed the peoples’ agenda,” he said.

Lightfoot noted that Brooklyn, New York, is unveiling its own DuSable street sign on Friday.

“But as he founded our city, we must be first. ... We are beating them to the punch. [New York is] a day late and a dollar short,” the mayor said.

Traffic on Lake Shore Drive on Friday, June 25, 2021 — the day the Chicago City Council voted to rename the roadway Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable Lake Shore Drive, in honor of the Black man who was the area’s first non-indigenous settler.
Traffic on Lake Shore Drive on Friday, June 25 — the day the Chicago City Council voted to rename the roadway Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable Lake Shore Drive, in honor of the Black man who was the area’s first non-indigenous settler.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times