CHICAGO (CBS/AP) — Douglas Park on the West Side is now officially Douglass Park. It might be a change of only one letter, but for a group of student activists, that’s all the difference in the world.
Students at Village Leadership Academy had been working since 2017 to have the sprawling park renamed.
Originally known as Stephen A. Douglas Park, the Chicago Park District Board officially removed the 19th Century U.S. senator’s name from the park in September, and on Wednesday voted unanimously to rename the park after abolitionists Frederick Douglass and Anna Murray-Douglass.
The students behind the name change said the original name was an insult to the Black community, because Stephen Douglas’ family owned slaves, and he said voters should decide whether slavery should continue.
“It’s a predominately Black community,” Raniya Thomas said this summer, “and it’s a slap in the face.”
The Park District Board began the process of renaming the park in July, but the students weren’t waiting, even going so far as to paint an extra “S” on the park’s signs this summer.
The students first started asking the city to change the park’s name to Frederick Douglass Park in 2017. They collected thousands of signatures. They originally wanted to rename the park after Rekia Boyd, who was shot and killed by an off-duty police officer near the park in 2012, but local officials urged the teens to pick someone of more historical significance.
They then picked abolitionist Frederick Douglass and his wife, Anna Murray-Douglas, who helped him escape slavery and was an abolitionist in her own right.
After the students spent more than two years campaigning for the name change, the Chicago Park District board voted to start the process to rename the park for Frederick Douglass this summer, days after demonstrators tried to bring down the Christopher Columbus statue in Grant Park, amid of weeks of marches decrying racial injustice.
In July, the board voted unanimously to start the process, kicking off a 45-day public comment period. The Board then officially removed Stephen Douglas’ name from the park in September, and renamed it Anna & Frederick Douglass Park on Wednesday. It’s the first time the Park District has renamed a park already dedicated in honor of a historic figure.
“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,” 13-year-old Jazzmin Johnson said this summer.
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.
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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