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Chicago's Black Catholic founder honored with new street signs on former Lake Shore Drive

With Mayor Lightfoot in tow, street signs were unveiled last week for Chicago's newly renamed DuSable Lake Share Drive, two years in the making and not a moment too soon.

Alderman Sophia King at Thursday's unveiling. (Chicago Sun-Times)

DuSable Drive is finally a reality in Chicago.

The years-long process, which reached a fever pitch over the summer when Mayor Lori Lightfoot joined 15 city aldermen in opposing the renaming of Lake Shore Drive, culminated last Thursday in the unveiling of the first new signs.

(Chicago Sun-Times)

Now officially known as Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable Lake Shore Drive, Chicago’s landmark thoroughfare was voted to be renamed as such in June, following the formation of a coalition that overcame Lightfoot and a number of her non-Black allies in the city council.

The affirmative effort was led by two Black aldermen representing the South Side: David Moore, who first spearheaded the renaming plans in 2019, and Sophia King.

“In the long process that took us to get to this point, we took a lot of steps, a lot of journeys,” Lightfoot said at the ceremony, where her change in tune was largely unaddressed—apparently due to the significance of the moment.

“Forevermore, people will know the name du Sable.”

Du Sable, a Black settler whose name adorns a number of spaces in the city, arrived in the area in the 1780s, founding a settlement with his Potawatomi wife, Kitihawa. He died in 1818 in Missouri.

The journey to more fully honor him in the city has indeed been a long one, with his public popularity growing in recent decades—and not without controversy.

Mayor Harold Washington, Chicago’s first Black mayor, sought to cement du Sable’s legacy with plans for a large park in 1987, but over the years that plan has yet to materialize. (It is presently being promoted mainly by the DuSable Heritage Association.)

The as-yet undeveloped DuSable Park site. (Chicago Sun-Times)

“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,” said Moore, who referred to the recent success in Biblical terms.

“For everything, there is a season and the City Council's vote for DuSable Lake Shore Drive was the right thing at the right time.”

The renaming was a more recent battle, and largely under the promotional purview of Black Heroes Matter, an organization which simultaneously raised nearly $18,000 for a monument to be placed in Grant Park (located along the newly renamed street, and next door to Buckingham Fountain, the site of Thursday’s unveiling).

The cost for the renaming was roughly $500,000, to be paid by the city. Lightfoot, who made mention on Thursday of another du Sable street sign unveiling the next day in Brooklyn, also recommitted to making DuSable Park a reality—at an additional $40M price tag.

Time will tell whether that promise will become a reality before the city’s mayoral election in February 2023.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).

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