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The Fight Over Renaming An Iconic Chicago Roadway


There's a fight to change the name of Chicago's iconic roadway, Lake Shore Drive, to honor the city's Black founder. From member station WBEZ, Mariah Woelfel reports.

MARIAH WOELFEL, BYLINE: Lake Shore Drive can take you around 20 miles - 160 blocks across the city with some of the best views of Chicago's skyline and Lake Michigan's shoreline all at once.

EPHRAIM MARTIN: So where we are now, we are at Lake Shore Drive and Jackson Boulevard, right here in the center of Chicago.

WOELFEL: On this day, I'm standing downtown with community activist Ephraim Martin, who leads the group Black Heroes Matter. He's been pushing for an ordinance that would change Lake Shore Drive to Jean Baptiste Point du Sable Drive.

MARTIN: Point du Sable started this city in 1779, but has not been given the respect he deserves.

WOELFEL: Chicago wasn't officially founded until the late 1830s, but du Sable is considered the area's first non-Indigenous resident. Just down the street from here, he built a successful trading post that would eventually grow to be the nation's third-largest city. But for a long time it was John Kinzie, a European man who bought du Sable's land after he left the area, who was credited with developing the region.


LORI LIGHTFOOT: It's way past time for us to truly, permanently recognize the person who's responsible for the founding of this city.

WOELFEL: That's Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who opposes changing the name of the street.


LIGHTFOOT: The difference between what we're proposing and just renaming a street is, we intend to educate both tourists, but also our residents, about who du Sable was.

WOELFEL: Lightfoot and other opponents have been searching for alternative proposals to honor du Sable, like renaming a pedestrian river walk after him, creating a du Sable festival or renaming the road du Sable Lake Shore Drive. Some of the loudest opposition is coming from an alderman who represents downtown residents that live along Lake Shore Drive and agree, whether for marketing or nostalgia, Lake Shore Drive is an important institution. Resident Maryann Schotz says she's lived along the Lake Shore for 15 years and would like to see more tributes to du Sable, but not in the form of a name change.

MARYANN SCHOTZ: I think that it would actually affect property values. I do. And so, of course, we're concerned about that. When we were looking, our whole thing is we wanted to be on the lake. So we kind of (laughter) - like, that was one of the ways we looked for properties. We wanted to be on Lake Shore Drive overlooking the lake. And so that would tell nothing to new buyers.

WOELFEL: Proponents like Ephraim Martin and supporting aldermen argue the exact opposite, that the name change would tell buyers about Chicago's rich history and that it values the Black residents who helped build it. After numerous delays, the measure to change Lake Shore Drive to Jean Baptiste Point du Sable Drive could get a vote when the council next meets on Friday.

For NPR News, I'm Mariah Woelfel in Chicago.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANDREW GOWER'S "BADU") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mariah Woelfel
Mariah Woelfel is WBEZ’s morning news producer--up before the sun to produce newscasts for the local broadcast of NPR’s Morning Edition. Prior to WBEZ, Mariah worked as a reporter, producer and All Things Considered host during her time as a fellow at WVIK, an NPR member station in western Illinois. She got her start in radio interning on WBEZ’s news desk during graduate school.