Rename Douglas Park: No Parks Named After Slaveholders!

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Rename Douglas Park: No Parks Named After Slaveholders!

We are the 8th grade class at Village Leadership Academy, a K-8th grade social justice school located in the South Loop. Over the past 4 years, we have been working on a campaign to change the name of Douglas Park in North Lawndale to honor Frederick Douglass instead of slaveholder Stephen Douglas. 


Douglas Park, a large Chicago Park located in North Lawndale, serves as a cultural and community center on the West Side. It is currently named after former IL Senator Stephen A. Douglas who believed in “popular sovereignty” -- the idea that voters should decide whether slavery should exist in their territory. He also owned a 3,000 acre plantation with 123 enslaved Black people in Lawrence Co. Mississippi.


Because North Lawndale is a predominantly Black neighborhood, we believe that a neighborhood park named after a historical figure who not only supported, but also actively participated in the enslavement of Black people, is an insult to the community.


In 2018, our original ask to the Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners was to rename the park in honor of Frederick Douglass, a self-taught intellectual, activist, abolitionist, feminist, author, and orator who played an instrumental role in the anti-slavery movement. Our goal was to encourage the board to make an easy change in order to recognize those who were on the right side of history. All they needed to do was ADD AN ‘S’! 


However, after three consecutive years of canvassing in North Lawndale and conducting CTA train takeovers that have resulted in over 9,000 online petition signatures and features in countless news articles, the Board of Commissioners had barely acknowledged our work (until recently). 


Undeterred, we persisted, hosting a campaign relaunch event in the park on Saturday, July 18th. Over 150 people showed up to support our cause. This event was also covered by several local news outlets ensuring that our work and message were amplified. 


On Wednesday, July 22nd, the Park District Board of Commissioners held an emergency meeting where renaming Douglas Park was the only item on the agenda. Unfortunately, we were not contacted by the board and made aware of this meeting so that we could have the opportunity to speak about this campaign that we began and the importance of removing monuments to white supremacy in our city and country. 


In that meeting the board voted to initiate a 45 day process to remove the name of Stephen Douglas as the park namesake. After that period, they will initiate a new 45 day process to rename the park. 


Our demands have changed. 4 years ago our ask of the Board of Commissioners was intentionally simple: Add An S! It’s for the best! Honor Frederick Douglass, an accomplished abolitionist. 

Now we draw a parallel to our work and that of Frederick’s wife Anna Murray Douglass, whose freedom made Frederick consider the possibility of his own! It was Anna who had access to a sailor suit and the money for a train ticket so he could travel North in disguise thus becoming a free man. She continued to care for their children and their home which she established as a headquarters for the Underground Railroad providing a safe space for Black folks who had escaped slavery to rest on their way to Canada. Without Anna, Frederick would not have had freedom or a platform to travel the world speaking out against slavery.


Anna’s powerful story and contributions to abolition are rarely told. Frederick receives the glory. We refuse to add to her erasure and now also seek to bring her story to light.  


Here’s how you can help: 

  1. Sign this petition demanding the Stephen Douglas Park be renamed Frederick and Anna Douglass Park.
  2. Email Michael P. Kelly and the board of commissioners using the template provided at bit.ly/noparksnamedafterslaveowners
  3. Leave public comment supporting our efforts on the Park District discussion page https://chicagoparkdistrict.granicusideas.com/discussions
  4. Attend the next Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners meeting on August 12 and voice your support for a name change to honor Anna & Frederick Douglass. 

We’re passionate about making this change because we believe that people deserve to feel affirmed in their communities. Children should play in parks named after people who can be role models, those who inspire them to be their best selves, or even to change the world!


We’ve seen in real time what grassroots organizing looks and feels like. We are ready-- now, more than ever-- to change the name in honor of Frederick and Anna Douglass. We stand at a contemporary yet historical crossroad where we have the unique opportunity to help remedy injustice. Let’s remove Stephen Douglas, and instead, honor the legacy of those who fought for the liberation of all people.


Tell the Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners to recognize those who were on the right side of history which includes acknowledging the work of the students of Village Leadership Academy who have raised public awareness about the importance of removing monuments to white supremacy since 2018!