CHICAGO (CBS) — It’s a landmark decision – the first time officials are removing the name of an historical figure from a Chicago park, and replacing it with another name.
The park known as Stephen A. Douglas Park is set to be renamed Frederick Douglass Park. CBS 2’s Jim Williams on Wednesday introduced us to the activists who made it happen on the city’s West Side.
The campaign’s champions are young. They are students at Village Leadership Academy.
Jazzmin Johnson is 13.
“It was inspirational to me that people my age were doing big things like this,” she said.
Raniya Thomas is a classmate.
“It’s a predominately Black community,” Raniya said, “and it’s a slap in the face.”
It is a slap in the face, the students said, that the park in North Lawndale – bounded by Roosevelt Road on the north, 19th Street on the south, California Avenue on the east, and Albany Avenue on the west – was named for Stephen A. Douglas, a U.S. Senator from Illinois.
Douglas’ family owned slaves, and he said voters should decide whether slavery should continue.
“So we’ve been campaigning for the past two years to get the name changed in his honor,” said teacher Jennifer Pagan.
The park is poised to be renamed in honor of Frederick Douglass, the Black abolitionist and statesman.
The students first started asking the city to change the park’s name in 2017. They collected thousands of signatures.
But the request went nowhere – until Wednesday morning.
Days after demonstrators tried to bring down the Christopher Columbus statue in Grant Park, amid of weeks of marches decrying racial injustice, the Chicago Park District board voted to start the process to rename the park for Frederick Douglass.
Though it’s not yet official, someone has already added an extra S to the park sign.
“I think it’s like a big accomplishment that we can share with our friends and others that they finally recognized our dedication, our hard work, and all we put into this campaign,” Jazzmin said.
The school’s principal calls it a lesson learned for students and teachers alike.
“I think this is significant, because I think it teaches student, and teaches us that students have a voice and agency now, and they are powerful change agents in the city,” said Village Leadership Academy principal Dayo Harris.
The Park District board’s vote was unanimous. Board president Avis LaValle said the community has made its voice loud and clear.
The board will have 45 days to hear the public’s comments. But they’re certain – the park will be named Frederick Douglass Park.