August 8, 2018

School's Still Out, Barely

How is it already August? Seems like one day it’s the solstice, then you blink and the kids are getting ready to go back to school. On the South Side of Chicago, that also means it’s time for the annual Bud Billiken parade, one of Chicago’s biggest and oldest traditions. It’s a huge event for Chicago’s history of African-American culture, and highlights some of the things about it that have helped make modern-day Chicago the place that it is.

The parade was the brainchild of a man named Robert Abbott, who founded the Chicago Defender, which is often considered the biggest and most important “black” newspaper in the history of the United States. Dating back to the “Great Migration” of African-Americans from the rural South after World War I, Chicago has always had a large black population, but racist housing practices meant that until the 1940s and 1950s, most of these people were concentrated in a single South Side community that became known as Bronzeville. The Bud Billiken parade, which goes down Martin Luther King Drive, the main thoroughfare of the historic Bronzeville district from 35th to 55th Street, became a symbol of hope during the Great Depression, aimed particularly at younger generations.

Originally, the parade was a showcase for local politicians, performers, business, and other organizations, an important occurrence and opportunity during America’s segregation era. Now, all of the awesome cultural elements that developed in Chicago during the heyday of “Black Metropolis,” from jazz and blues music to poetry and writing to fried fish and chicken with mild sauce, have spread out all over the city, and help continue to make Chicago the diverse, explore-friendly place it is today. The Bud Billiken parade survives today as a way for our South Side communities to come together and celebrate this cultural history. If this often-underwritten part of Chicago is something that interests you, the parade marches just a few blocks away from the DuSable Museum of African-American History, which is well known locally but often falls in the shadows of some of our bigger museums and institutions downtown. From food to music to art, this is a Chicago culture and community that definitely doesn’t get the recognition it deserves, so next time you’re visiting, consider expanding your horizons beyond the Sears tower, and think about all the cool and interesting stuff that less-thoughtful visitors might overlook!

(cover photo/Tyler LaRiviere)