New Orleans has removed statues of Confederate leaders, providing a reminder that many cities — including Chicago — have monuments, street names and other symbols that could offend people. Just this year, Chicago added a new controversial symbol: an honorary street designation for Puerto Rican nationalist Oscar Lopez Rivera, recently freed after 35 years in prison on charges including seditious conspiracy and armed robbery.
Here’s a look at some of Chicago’s potentially offensive public symbols, but first a disclaimer: This is NOT a call for these symbols to be removed. It’s simply an attempt to increase awareness of our history and public places.
Balbo Drive: Italo Balbo was an Italian fascist leader who helped dictator Benito Mussolini rise to power. Balbo led a much-publicized visit of an airplane armada to Chicago during the Century of Progress Exposition in 1933, and Chicago honored him by renaming 7th Street. Some say Chicago’s continued recognition of Balbo is an embarrassing endorsement of fascism. Others say Balbo wasn’t nearly as bad as Mussolini and cite the fact that Balbo opposed anti-Jewish laws and Italy’s alliance with Hitler’s Germany. In any case, the Balbo name survives in Chicago — not only on the street but also on a monument in Burnham Park east of Soldier Field and in an inscription on the base of the Columbus statue at the south end of Grant Park.
Jackson Street and Jackson Park: It seems perfectly legitimate to name things after a president, but there are reasons to think twice about honoring Andrew Jackson. The seventh president was largely responsible for dispossessing Indian tribes and sending them west on a “Trail of Tears.” He not only owned slaves but advocated cruelty toward them, once taking out an ad for a runaway slave that promised to pay the captor a $10 bonus for every 100 lashes delivered.
Lucy Parsons Park: When Chicago announced in 2004 that a park would be named for labor activist Parsons, the police union opposed such an honor for a “known anarchist.” And indeed she was that. Her husband, Albert Parsons, was one of four anarchists executed after the 1886 Haymarket bombing, and she may well have been more extreme than he was. She urged comrades to “learn the use of explosives” to bomb the homes of the rich, and she called on Southern blacks to commit arson. Today we would call her an advocate of terrorism. But some of her then-radical notions are mainstream now, among them an eight-hour workday, a social safety net and limits on child labor. Despite initial protests, the Northwest Side park still carries her name.
The Blackhawks’ nickname and logo: The Blackhawks hockey team’s Indian imagery has inspired some grumbling but certainly less controversy than those of the Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Indians. That’s probably because of the Chicago nickname’s historical roots and the noble Indian on its logo — a far cry from Cleveland’s cartoonish Chief Wahoo. The Chicago name comes from Chief Black Hawk, who led the Sauk and Fox tribes in a war against the U.S. government. (There’s no tribe called the Blackhawks; that’s a common misconception.) Team founder Frederic McLaughlin called his hockey team the Black Hawks because that was the Indian-inspired nickname of his World War I unit.
Bauler Park: You can understand the temptation to name something for Ald. Mathias “Paddy” Bauler simply to recognize his immortal quotation “Chicago ain’t ready for reform.” But it seems a bit odd to dedicate a kids’ playlot park in Old Town Triangle to a staunch defender of the city’s shady patronage politics. Bauler ran a speakeasy during Prohibition and a legal tavern afterward, once shooting and wounding a police officer who allegedly demanded to be served after hours. (Bauler was charged but acquitted.)
Chicago’s city seal: In 1987, Mayor Harold Washington and some black aldermen complained about the city seal’s depiction of a sailing ship, noting a past description of the ship as “emblematic of the approach of the white man’s civilization and commerce.” One alderman went further, saying the vessel resembled a slave ship. But the image remains in the seal.
Anson Place: This short stretch of street in West Town honors racist baseball star Adrian “Cap” Anson, who helped lead the successful movement that banned African-American players from the major leagues for more than half a century. Somehow this questionable honor escaped the notice of those activist aldermen in the 1980s.
The Trump signs: After a vote of the Chicago City Council, city workers took down an honorary street sign for Donald Trump, but there doesn’t appear to be any official recourse for the huge letters on Trump Tower reading TRUMP, which some find annoying. The president, however, has pronounced the sign “magnificent and popular.”
The Pedro Albizu Campos statue: Like Oscar Lopez Rivera, Albizu was a Puerto Rican nationalist imprisoned for decades by U.S. authorities who accused him of fomenting violent revolution. And like Lopez, Albizu and his legacy have aroused controversy in Chicago. In 1993, plans to recognize the Harvard-educated Albizu with a statue in Humboldt Park ran into trouble. Ultimately, the Puerto Rican Cultural Center found a spot for the statue along Division Street. There is also a Chicago high school named for Albizu and an honorary street designation.
Swastikas here and there: The symbol commonly associated with the Nazis remains in various public spaces in the Chicago area, from a monument to Father Jacques Marquette on South Damen Avenue to the Baha’i temple in Wilmette. But neither of those examples has anything to do with the Nazis. Rather, they reflect the fact that the swastika was a positive symbol long before Adolf Hitler. (Also, the Baha’i swastikas point in the opposite direction from the Nazi version.) Bottom line: Public symbols — be they street signs or statues — can mean vastly different things to different people.
Mark Jacob is the Tribune’s associate managing editor for metropolitan news.