Who was Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, the new namesake of Lake Shore Drive in Chicago? | Smart News

A part of Chicago, recently renamed Jean Baptiste Point DuSable Lake Shore Drive, photographed in 2013
Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

One of Chicago’s most iconic and scenic thoroughfares has a new name, report John Byrne and Gregory Pratt for the Chicago Grandstand. City Council last week voted to rename Lake Shore Drive Jean Baptiste Point DuSable Lake Shore Drive, in honor of the black merchant cited as the city’s first non-Indigenous settler in the Midwest.

The change will impact 17 miles of outer Lake Shore Drive, the ribbon of road that winds around the city and separates residential areas to the west from a bike path, parks and Lake Michigan to the ‘is. Alderman David Moore and the group Black Heroes Matter first proposed renaming Lake Shore Drive after DuSable in 2019.

Leaders voted 33 to 15 in favor of change, after weeks of tense debates and meetings, reports Becky Vevea for WBEZ Chicago. Mayor Lori Lightfoot initially opposed the name change as she claimed it would create chaos at the post office, with many buildings having to change addresses. Other opponents of the name change plan cited the expected cost of signage changes and the long history of the road.

Speaking in support of the name change on Friday, Alderman Sophia King acknowledged the controversy.

“It was argued that Lake Shore Drive shouldn’t be changed because it’s so iconic,” King said, as reported by Justin Laurence for Block the Chicago club. “I support just the opposite, let’s change it because it’s so iconic. … I hope our story is that we choose a name that speaks to racial healing and reckoning to honor our founder, who happens to be black and Haitian.

A stamp issued by the United States Postal Service in 1978 depicts Jean Baptiste Pointe Du Sable (c. 1745-1818), the first non-Native settler of an area called Eschikagou, now known as the North Bank of the Chicago River .
National Postal Museum / Copyright United States Postal Service. All rights reserved.

Although evidence of his youth remains scarce, DuSable was likely born on the island of Haiti around 1745 to a French father and a black slave mother, as reported by WTTW in a 2010 article on the Chicago Black History. He was educated in France, then sailed to New Orleans, up the Mississippi River to Illinois.

Along with his wife, a Native woman named Kitihawa who was likely Potawatomi, DuSable established a cabin on the north bank of the Chicago River around 1779, becoming the first non-Native person to settle in the area. The couple eventually established a farm and a trading post, which succeeded in large part due to Kitihawa’s translation assistance, as reported by Jesse Dukes for WBEZ. curious city in 2017. Kitihawa acted as a liaison, allowing DuSable to sell goods such as furs and liquor to nearby Native American villages and European explorers who crossed the portage from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River.

As Rick Kogan explained for the Chicago Grandstand as of 2019, many Chicago historians and Indigenous leaders argue that describing DuSable as a “founder” erases the crucial role Indigenous peoples played in shaping the city. Thousands of Algonquian-speaking Native American families had settled in villages in the region by the start of the 19th century, according to curious city.

European planners used the outlines of major Native American trails to determine major streets in Chicago. And an Anishinaabe word for “skunk” could have inspired the town’s name, as reported by Alex Schwartz for Dark Atlas in 2019.

In an editorial for the Chicago Sun-Times on the impending name change, Loyola University historian Theodore J. Karamanski argued that the emphasis on DuSable’s role as a “founder” risked “myth-creating” and overlooked the merchant’s complicity in colonialism. European settlers and the violent ethnic cleansing of Native Americans in the area. Most, but not all, of the Native tribes were forced out of the area in 1833 after being forced to sign the Treaty of Chicago, which confiscated 15 million acres of land from the U.S. government, by Dark Atlas.

Fur traders like DuSable “were the vanguard of the international capitalist market and encroaching colonization,” notes the historian.

DuSable, Kitihawa, and their two children only resided near the Chicago River for about a year. In 1800, the family sold their property and traveled west to St. Charles, Missouri, where DuSable died in 1818, according to WTTW.

“In the wake of the pioneering settlement of DuSable on the Chicago River, the U.S. military erected Fort Dearborn, an event commemorated today by a star on the flag of Chicago,” Karamanski writes. “But the Chicago-area Indians saw the construction of the fort for what it was, the military occupation of their homeland.”

Chicago has renamed main streets before: In 1968, then-Mayor Richard J. Daley renamed South Park Way to Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, shortly after the civil rights leader was assassinated. And in 2018, the city renamed the downtown Congress Parkway to Ida B. Wells Drive, named after the revolutionary journalist and anti-lynching activist.

According to the Chicago Public Library, Lake Shore Drive as it stands today owes its beginnings to an 1869 law that established the Lincoln Park District on Chicago’s north side. The thoroughfare will join a host of other Chicago facilities that will bear the DuSable name, including a public high school, a bridge, a harbor and the DuSable Museum of African American History, a museum affiliated with the Smithsonian.

In other big news from Chicago, a monument dedicated to journalist Wells is set to be dedicated Wednesday in the historic Bronzeville neighborhood. Richard Hunt’s sculpture, titled light of truthwill be the first monument dedicated to a black woman in the city, as reported by Jamie Nesbitt Golden for Block Chicago Club.

Editor’s Note, April 4, 2022: This story has been edited to indicate that it was Mayor Richard J. Daley, not his son, Richard M. Daley, who renamed South Park Way after Martin Luther King, Jr. .

Comments are closed.