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DuSable Drive is supported by most POC Chicagoans with an opinion, opposed by whites

Mural of DuSable in the 47th Street Metra Electric viaduct. Photo: Jeff Zoline

Update 6/8/21, 12:30 PM: WBEZ recently reported that the $2.5 million cost figure for renaming the drive that has been stated by other news outlets is incorrect, and the only number that has actually been put out by the city is "at least $853,500." This article has been edited accordingly.

The movement to rename Chicago's Lake Shore Drive after Black city founder Jean Baptiste Point du Sable has been a highly controversial topic. South Side alderman and Illinois Secretary of State candidate David Moore introduced the DuSable Drive ordinance in October 2019. With support from the advocacy group Black Heroes Matter, the measure passed City Council’s Committee on Transportation and Public Way on April 29 of this year during a "tumultuous" hearing.

On May 26, the legislation was almost brought up for a full vote in the Council, where it appeared to have enough support to pass. However, Mayor Lori Lightfoot is opposed to the name change, and that day two of her aldermanic allies, Brian Hopkins and Ariel Reboyras, used a procedural maneuver to block the vote.

It's not clear exactly why Lightfoot is dead-set against DuSable Drive, which would involve virtually no address changes, since the inner, residential lanes of the highway would still be called Lake Shore Drive. Chicago Department of Transportation officials have privately expressed annoyance about the possibility of having to change street signs and handle other involved tasks.

Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle, against whom Lightfoot fought a bitter mayoral race, is a longtime supporter of DuSable Drive, having previously proposed the name change herself in the 1990s. And I strongly suspect local business leaders have been lobbying Lightfoot against the move, reasoning that it would hurt Chicago's brand. That would be highly ironic since corporations were responsible for changing the names of other landmarks like the Sears Tower (Willis Tower), the John Hancock Center (875 North Michigan), Marshall Field's (Macy's), and Comiskey Park (first U.S. Cellular Field, currently Guaranteed Rate Field).

Whatever the reason, Lightfoot recently announced a $40 million counterproposal to the measure, including the development of DuSable Park, a hump of land near Navy Pier that, shamefully, still stands fallow more than three decades after the park was first announced in 1987. The mayor's proposal also includes renaming the Chicago Riverwalk for DuSable, whose trading post was located on the north bank of waterway near present-day Michigan Avenue, launching an annual DuSable Festival, and installing three statues of the city founder.

DuSable Drive supporters Moore, Ephraim Martin of Black Heroes Matter, and Ald. Sophia King
DuSable Drive supporters Moore, Ephraim Martin of Black Heroes Matter, and Ald. Sophia King
DuSable Drive supporters Moore, Ephraim Martin of Black Heroes Matter, and Ald. Sophia King

Alderman Moore noted that Lightfoot's plan would be exponentially more expensive that the city's rough cost estimate of $853,500 for renaming the drive. Black Heroes Matter said in a statement that the mayor's ideas are a "pleasant surprise," but must be done "in addition to" DuSable Drive, not instead of it.

As I've noted before on Twitter, other than Lightfoot, support for and opposition to DuSable Drive has appeared to be largely divided by race. My sense has been that most Chicagoans of color who are aware of the issue support the name change to honor the Black pioneer, while the majority of people who are against it are white. That's based on who the outspoken supporters and opponents have been among advocates, politicians, op-ed writers, and social media commenters I've heard from. Here's the breakdown in terms of other public figures other than Lightfoot who've weighed in on, or taken action on, the issue.



It goes without saying that there's absolutely nothing inherently racist about being opposed to the name change. But I've included the parentheticals about Burke, Konkol, and Kass since I think it's relevant to the discussion that three of the most vocal opponents to DuSable Drive are white men who have famously been on the wrong side of social justice issues in the past.

Burke, Kass, and Konkol
Burke, Kass, and Konkol
Burke, Kass, and Konkol

It's also notable that the right-leaning Chicago Tribune ran an editorial against DuSable Drive that quoted seven readers who are opposed, but on closer inspection all of them appear to be white (and most of them don't live in Chicago.)

I've seen exactly one argument from an African American against renaming the drive for the Black city founder. In a May 3 letter to the Sun-Times, South Loop resident Kim Foster argued that the Lake Shore Drive debate is a distraction from Chicago's more pressing issues affecting people of color, including crime, employment, education, and environmental justice.

That's a valid point of view. However, DuSable Drive proponents would argue that a citywide tribute to Chicago's long-ignored Black founder is a step in the right direction towards racial justice, and our elected officials should be capable of multitasking.

"I think I can say that the majority of the Black community is not losing sleep on the subject of renaming LSD to honor DuSable," Foster wrote.

That may be true. However, a new survey of Chicago voters by WGN News found that the vast majority of African-Americans who had an opinion on the issue were in support of renaming the highway to honor the Black founder. Out of the 226 African-American respondents who had an opinion on the matter (respondents were asked to self-identify by race), 137, or about 61 percent, were in favor.

The poll also found that most of their Latino and Asian-American / Pacific Islander counterparts agree with them. Of the 191 Latino respondents with an opinion on DuSable Drive, 105, or roughly 55 percent, support it.

Out of the 35 AAPI survey participants with an opinion, 20, or about 57 percent, are in favor.

However, the survey also confirmed my suspicion that many or most DuSable Drive opponents are white. Of the 280 white respondents with an opinion, a full 184 were against the idea. That's roughly 66 percent.

Screen Shot 2021-06-04 at 3.27.29 PM
WGN chart showing the breakdown of support and opposition to DuSable Drive by race.

Why are so many white people opposed to DuSable Drive? That's impossible to tell from the survey. However, I'd guess that for most of the white respondents, it's not because they're virulent racists. Rather, it's because, unlike most of their POC counterparts, they're more interested in maintaining what they see as a Chicago tradition by keeping the Lake Shore Drive name, than honoring a person of color by changing it.

I should add that there are at least two major problems with the WGN methodology and writeup. While only surveying voters makes some sense for election polls, it's not a great way to get a sense of popular opinion on an issue that's of concern to all Chicagoans, not just voters.

And since the demographics of the people surveyed by WGN were weighted to reflect the demographics of Chicagoans who vote, who are disproportionately white people, the WGN respondents also skewed white.

Per 2019 Census estimates, the number of non-Hispanic white Chicagoans is about 13 percent higher than the Latino population, and about 9 percent higher than the Black population. But the number of white WGN survey respondents (335) was 37 percent higher than the number of Latino respondents (245), and 17 percent higher than the number of African-American respondents (287).

Since white survey participants were mostly opposed to to the name change, the racial discrepancy in the polling sample helps explain why 41.5 percent of all respondents with an opinion were opposed to DuSable Drive, while 36.6 percent were supportive.

The WGN writeup also contains the false statement, "It appears voters mostly agree with Mayor Lightfoot, who is in favor of keeping Chicago’s iconic highway the way it is." On the contrary, it appears voters mostly don't agree with Mayor Lightfoot – 58.5 percent them either disagree with her or don't have an opinion.

And, judging from the WGN survey results, as more Chicagoans learn about the issue and form an opinion, since two-thirds of city residents are Latino and/or people of color, in the future we should be able to simply state, "Most Chicagoans are in favor of DuSable Drive."

Check out the WGN survey and methodology here.

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