CHICAGO (CBS) — A Chicago pastor has asked the Emanuel administration to remove the names of two presidents who owned slaves from parks on the South Side, saying the city should not honor slave owners in black communities.
A bronze statue of George Washington on horseback stands at the corner of 51st and King Drive, at the northwest entrance to Washington Park.
Bishop James Dukes, pastor of Liberation Christian Center, said he wants the statue gone, and he wants George Washington’s name removed from the park.
“When I see that, I see a person who fought for the liberties, and I see people that fought for the justice and freedom of white America, because at that moment, we were still chattel slavery, and was three-fifths of humans,” he said. “Some people out here ask me, say ‘Well, you know, he taught his slaves to read.’ That’s almost sad; the equivalent of someone who kidnaps you, that you gave them something to eat.”
Dukes said, even though Washington was the nation’s first president and led the American army in the Revolutionary War, he’s no hero to the black community.
“There’s no way plausible that we would even think that they would erect a Malcolm X statue in Mount Greenwood, Lincoln Park, or any of that. Not that say Malcolm X was a bad guy; they just would not go for it,” he said. “Native Americans would not even think about putting up a Custer statue, because of the atrocities that he plagued upon Native Americans. And for them to say to us ‘just accept it’ is actually insulting.”
The pastor also said President Andrew Jackson’s name should be removed from nearby Jackson Park, because he also was a slave owner. He said he’s not necessarily asking the city rename the parks altogether. He suggested Washington Park could be named after former Mayor Harold Washington, and Jackson Park could be named after civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson or singer Michael Jackson.
Dukes said he’s not trying to erase history. He said black people should be able to decide who is and is not honored in their communities.
“I think we should be able to identify and decide who we declare heroes in or communities, because we have to tell the stories to our children of who these persons are,” he said.
He said parks, statues, or other monuments honoring Presidents Washington and Jackson might be appropriate elsewhere, but not in black neighborhoods.
“In an African-American community, it’s a slap in the face and it’s a disgrace for them to honor someone who was a slave owner.
Dukes said he has sent letters to Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Park District asking them to change the names of Washington and Jackson parks. He shared the letter on Facebook.
“I am feeling ambivalent that I would have to walk my child, attend a parade or enjoy a game of softball in a park that commemorates the memory of a slave owner,” he wrote. “Therefore, I call on the immediate removal of President George Washington and President Andrew Jackson names from the parks located on the southeast side of Chicago. They should not have the distinct honor of being held as heroes when they actively participated in the slave trade.”
Representatives for the mayor did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
A Chicago Park District spokeswoman pointed to the city’s formal process for renaming parks, which allows anyone to submit a request to the superintendent. The Park District board may vote on any such request after a 45-day public comment period.