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It’s past time to rename Lake Shore Drive in honor of DuSable, Chicago’s Black founder

Jean Baptiste Point DuSable founded this great American city. Without him, there would be no Chicago.

A bust of Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, the Haitian-born founder of Chicago.
A bust of Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, the Haitian-born founder of Chicago.
Sun-Times Media

No more excuses.

Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, a Black man, was the first permanent, non-indigenous settler of the land that would become the great metropolis of Chicago.

On Thursday, the Chicago City Council Transportation Committee voted to rename Outer Lake Shore Drive, a 17-mile stretch from Hollywood Avenue to 67th Street, in honor of DuSable.

The aldermanic push to re-christen the Drive comes over the objections of Mayor Lori Lightfoot. She is pitching an alternative. She promises $25 million to complete DuSable Park, rename the city’s Riverwalk and create an exhibit there in DuSable’s honor. That’s not nearly enough.

Born in Haiti of African descent, DuSable migrated to New Orleans and traveled up the Mississippi River. “Sometime after 1770, DuSable moved to the region known as Eschecagou — which visitors mispronounced as ‘Chicago,’” the Evolving Man Project reported in a recent tribute to DuSable. (The Evolving Man Project is a website produced by Lornett Vestal, a Chicago-born activist who is working to promote social change.)

A trader of ambition, DuSable was “described as handsome and well educated,” Wikipedia notes.

Long before America’s white “founders” outlawed interracial marriage, DuSable married a Native American woman, Kitiwaha, a member of the Potawatomi tribe, and the couple had two children. DuSable joined the tribe. The Potawatomi called him the “Black Chief,” according to Evolving Man.

DuSable built a prosperous trading post at the mouth of the Chicago River, near where Tribune Tower now stands. The site was later incorporated as the city of Chicago.

“Point du Sable’s successful role in developing the Chicago River settlement was little recognized until the mid-20th century,” says Wikipedia.

In the 21st century, the trail of excuses is longer than DuSable’s journey to the mouth of the Chicago River.

The name change would be an expensive, administrative nightmare, some argue. North Side residents will be inconvenienced. It would muddle Chicago’s marketing and international brand. What about the songs and odes that have been written in homage of Lake Shore Drive?

This North Side resident lives on Lake Shore Drive. It’s time for the Black Father of Chicago to get his due.

I first heard of DuSable from Harold Washington, Chicago’s first Black mayor. He reveled in the joy of leading a city founded by a Black man. In 1987, Washington dedicated a plot of land near Navy Pier as DuSable Park. It has never been completed.

In 1993, then-Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4th) and Madeline Haithcock (2nd) upped the ante, pushing an effort to rename Lake Shore Drive for DuSable. But “then-Mayor Richard M. Daley put the kibosh on the idea,” Chicago Sun-Times reporter Fran Spielman writes. “Eight years later, then-Ald. Ed Smith (28th) proposed a different DuSable honor — naming City Hall after him — only to meet the same fate.”

The current proposal will soon go before the full City Council. Co-sponsor David Moore says he has the votes to pass it.

Jean Baptiste Point DuSable founded this great American city. Without DuSable, there would be no Chicago.

People of color — first Native Americans, then DuSable, discovered and owned that land long before their white oppressors took it away. That’s reason enough to give a great Black man our greatest honor.

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Follow Laura Washington on Twitter @MediaDervish