Words by Stevenson Benoit
Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable (1745?-1818), a pioneer and settler in what is now known as Chicago and Peoria, Illinois, perceived the importance of the area, which is one of the largest metropolises in the United States today. His perception was coupled with his affinity with the local Indian tribes. These factors working in unison led DuSable to establish arguably one of the most important centers of trade, commerce and, industry in America.
DuSable’s birthdate remains unconfirmed, but scholars suggest that he was born in 1745 in St. Marc.
His biological mother was a former African slave. His father, a successful French mariner, took Du Sable to France to study. There, DuSable acquired a liking for culture, fine arts, as well as languages. In addition to speaking French, he also picked up Spanish and English, and amassed an impressive collection of valuable art.
DuSable’s rich legacy manifests itself in the windy city and in its economic importance to the modern U.S. economy. What began as just a small trading post growing into the largest commercial epicenter in the Midwest, DuSable’s vision was the groundwork and building block on which the city of Chicago was built. DuSable was finally recognized Oct. 25, 1968, as the city’s founder by the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois.
The story of DuSable’s life can be read in Toure Muhammad’s book, Chicago’s Self-Made Black Business Pioneers: Social Entrepreneurs Everyone Should Know About. More information on DuSable can also be found at DuSable Heritage Association.
The DuSable Heritage Association was established to preserve Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable’s legacy. A park in central Chicago was built and named after the founder with historical information about DuSable in a plaza also located in the park. The DuSable Museum of African American History was named after him and a bust in his likeness sits in the lobby to this day. The association, a nonprofit organization, promotes Haitian culture and education in Chicago. The association hosts an annual awards fundraiser to raise money for different projects, including the Dusable Park.
City officials appointed a 15-member panel and one of the members, Dr. Serge Pierre-Louis, DuSable Heritage Association president, noted that most of the members of the committee agreed on the version of his history to display in the park. So far though, the building of the park has stalled according to Pierre-Louis. “The land, yes, has been sitting there for at least 30 years. It’s unfortunate the founder of the city has to go through so much to get proper recognition,” said Serge Pierre-Louis. “We are hoping for a positive conclusion to that long road. It should be easier for the founder of the city to get a park in his name. It is disappointing after so many years he still doesn’t have a park,” Pierre-Louis said.
The park is currently riddled with weeds and shrubs and sits closed off to the public just east of where the Chicago River and Lake Michigan meet. “The issue is, it still needs a lot of work and it needs a lot of money,” Chicago Park District CEO Michael Kelly said of DuSable Park. The building of the park was not included in the city’s capital improvement plan.