Washington Park

5531 South Martin Luther King Drive

The Chicago Defender held communal Bud Billiken picnics in Washington Park to both cultivate young readers (hailed by the fictitious Billiken character featured in paper) and rally black Chicagoans to support each other in the lean times of the Depression. Families with means, as well as churches, fraternal groups, and corporate and institutional sponsors like L. Fish Furniture Company, the YMCA, the YWCA, and the NAACP contributed goods and services to the early Billiken picnics, helping to ensure that needy children were able to eat even if their parents were unemployed. In 1937, The Chicago Defender and Bud Billiken Day’s promoters secured permits to use all of Washington Park, effectively transforming the space into the nation’s first and largest all-Black public park. The Billiken picnic, as well as the festive parade that kicked it off, inculcated rituals of social beneficence and performances of cultural continuity that bound together an African American community still under duress, despite having left the Jim Crow South. The event also helped enshrine black culture in a site that would later become home to The DuSable Museum of African American History, as well as a black cruising district at the center of various queer of color cabarets.

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