Celebrating the Black History of Jackson Park


(slow piano music) – The South Side is where I first landed when I moved to Chicago. We had this community
that had so much history, a history of the black
migration from the south, of, you know, people
experiencing discrimination but not being defined by
it, and overcoming it, and the changes that took
place in much of the South Side in many ways ended up triggering
black political empowerment and probably had laid the groundwork for my race for the presidency. (inspirational piano music) – The World’s Columbia Exhibition of 1893 took place at Jackson Park
and it was a celebration of the 400 years of progress Americans, and really the Western
World, had accomplished. – African Americans
formally were not included in the World’s Fair, and this was a point of some controversy. The only exhibit that related
to African descended people was what was called the Haitian Pavilion and that was an invitation
to the country of Haiti. – Frederick Douglas was
one of the preeminent African Americans in the
United States at the time, a man who was born into
slavery who escaped slavery and rose to be one of
the leading abolitionists in the United States. He had been the U.S.
Representative to Haiti, and it was actually the Haitian government who invited Frederick Douglas to Chicago. – Frederick Douglas was
a very strong advocate of the idea that even if
there wasn’t an exhibit in relation to African Americans, there needed to be some commemoration, and I think his lobbying
resulted in the organizers agreeing to set aside a day to celebrate the advances of African Americans and their contributions
to national civilization. They call it American Day, took
place on August 25th, 1893. – When Frederick Douglas spoke, he was critiquing the
persistent racial discrimination that African Americans were facing, not quite 30 years after
the end of slavery. – Negro problem, there is
in fact no such problem. The true problem is
whether the American people have honesty enough, honor
enough, patriotism enough, to live up to their own constitution. – So this is where Frederick Douglas marker is in Jackson Park. This is where the Haitian Pavilion was, this is where Douglas held court. The marker represents
the importance of having a place that our families
of the South Side could come and feel that they’ve made a bigger contribution to
the world and say we belong. – The significance of Jackson Park as a site that brings the
contributions of Frederick Douglas in 1893 together with the
contributions of Barrack Obama and having his presidential
center located there, it closes the circle around understanding what it means to appreciate
the length of the struggle to enfranchise African Americans, to have their voices counted, to recognize their capacities
and powers of leadership. I think what Douglas did was what so many people have done through their life, they come to this city,
they see conditions that they don’t like, and they find a way to try to make it different, and that, I think, is a legacy
that speaks tremendously about why the African American community in this city is so powerful. – Progress in this nation
happens only because seemingly ordinary people find the courage to stand up for what is right, not just when it’s easy,
but when it’s hard. Not just when it’s convenient,
but when it’s challenging. We don’t set aside this month each year to isolate or segregate, or put under a glass case, black history, we set it aside to
illuminate those threads, those living threads
that African Americans have woven into the tight
tapestry of this nation, to make it stronger, and more beautiful, and more just, and more free. (inspirational piano music)

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