CHICAGO — A sprawling park on Chicago’s West Side will now bear the name of 19th century abolitionists Frederick Douglass and Anna Murray-Douglass and not that of a former Illinois senator and slaveowner.
Chicago Park District commissioners voted Wednesday to officially rename the 173-acre park created in 1869 and named for Stephen Douglas after years of efforts by a group of high school students. The teenagers had gone as far as to paint an extra S” on signs in the park that carried its original name, Douglas Park.”
Stephen Douglas lost the presidential election to Abraham Lincoln in 1860 and died a year later.
Students at Village Leadership Academy began pushing for the name change in 2016. Their original choice was to honor Rekia Boyd, who was shot and killed near the park in 2012 by an off-duty police officer who was later acquitted of involuntary manslaughter. Their choice was rejected by officials for lacking historical significance. The students settled on Frederick Douglass and his wife, who helped him escape slavery.
Presently, Douglas is remembered (if he is remembered at all) for debating Abraham Lincoln in 1858 during their campaign for U. S. senator. Republican Lincoln won the popular vote but was not appointed to the Senate by the Illinois legislature, dominated by Democrats. I presume that the many ironies of this renaming are lost on most of its advocates.
There are any number of reasons to not want to name a park for Stephen Douglas. That his wife’s family owned slaves is, perhaps, one of the weakest. A main topic of the debates was slavery and in essence Douglas defended it. He was the author and principle sponsor of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.
I support the renaming but it did remind me of one of the corollaries to Parkinson’s Third Law: you can identify the start of decline in any institution by its building a grand new headquarters. Getting results may or may not be a sign of increasing strength.