As a parade, the 90th annual Bud Billiken Day Parade was a bust. As a community event, it was spectacular.
The parade is the African-American community’s homage to back-to-school. It was the brainchild of Robert S. Abbott, the founder of the Chicago Defender, a newspaper that has served the African-American community well. Sadly, like many newspapers, it recently ceased publication in hard-copy form, turning into an online paper following its July 10, 2019 edition.
I don’t have anything against the Billiken Day Parade, or any of the other parades I’ve attended in Chicago. I just don’t find them particularly colorful or entertaining in and of themselves. The floats are rather unimaginative, too much of the music is recorded rather than live, the organizers rely too heavily on politicians for celebrity pizzaz, and there are few, if any, surprises. But at the end of the day, spectacle is not what the Billiken Parade is all about. It is an opportunity for everyone to strut their stuff, including the kids, and to remind parents that it’s time to buy school supplies and get the kids ready for another school year. And for me, what is happening on the roadway is far less important than what is happening behind the metal barriers separating the crowd from the performers.
The “Bud,” as it is known, is the second largest parade in the country and is the largest Black parade in the world. The organizers claim that it attracts over 500,000 attendees each year. It isn’t just about fun. The Parade awards $25,000 in scholarships each year and hands outs 100,000 school supplies.
I took the Green Line from the Loop to 43rd Street, where I walked two short blocks east to Martin Luther King Drive. The parade route is fairly short, beginning on 39th Street and ending on 55th Street. In other words, it stretches from Bronzeville to Washington Park just north of the University of Chicago.
Everyone was thrilled to see the new mayor, Lori Lightfoot, who functioned as an Honorary Marshal. The Grand Marshal this year was Lil Rel Howery, a Chicago comedian who stars on the Fox series, Rel, and who also was in Jordan Peele’s Get Out (which should have won the 2017 Oscar for Best Picture).
My favorite part of the parade is all the entrepeneurial purveyors of barbecue, ice cones, and other assorted food. You aren’t going to go hungry walking the parade route. In fact, a number of politicians jumped from their cars to buy lemonade at the stand next to me. I love to see the smoke coming from the oil drum grills lining the route.
After the parade, there is a family-friendly gathering in Washington Park, where participants have the opportunity to eat, play on inflatible trampolines and slides, and obtain information that should prove helpful to navigating the upcoming school year.
Today, the weather was perfect for a parade. Maybe a little bit too hot, but the Chicago Fire Department took care of that with a gigantic water mister at the end of the parade route.
Like everyone else, I had a great time during the three or so hour parade.
Post Script: Robert Sengstacke Abbott is an very interesting figure. He was born in 1868 on St. Simons Island (Georgia). In 1896, he left Virginia and headed to Chicago, where he attended Kent College of Law. In 1905, he started the Chicago Defender, which became the nation’s most important Black-owned newspaper, reaching a circulation of more than 200,000 in the Twenties. It reported on conditions in the south, coining the anti-lynching slogan, “If you must die, take at least one with you.” The Defender called for Federal intervention to stop the lynchings. It was highly critical of President Woodrow Wilson, writing, “If President Woodrow Wilson is so anxious to teach the world good morals, let him begin by placing the U.S. Army in the South; institute a chase of the lynchers as earnestly as the one he is now carrying on in Mexico.”
The newspaper greatly influenced the Great Migration in 1917-40) of Blacks from the south to northern cities. For additional information on the Defender’s influence, see Ethan Michaeli, Bound for the Promised Land, The Atlantic (January 11, 2016).
[Click on an Image to Enlarge It]
Getting Into Position
Three Buddies on a Saturday Morning in August
Now All We Need is Some Ice
A Spectator and His Friend
Nothing Like an Old Oil Drum, and Sausage and Ribs
Mayor Lori Lightfoot
Moving the Chicken
A Firefighter on a Unicycle
Congressman Danny Davis in a Benz
Dancing in the Streets
An Exuberant Kick
“Hot Coals Only”
My Little Red Corvette
Hip Hop on a Float
The Big Bad Boy is Smokin’
A Worthy Message
“Power Soul Rejoice”
Helping with the Stand
Munching on a Leg After the Parade
“Free Hot Dogs”
Curious, But a Bit Hesitant
Funnel Cakes in the Hot Sun