A Renewed Push To Get An Answer from the Chicago Park District

A group of almost a dozen supporters from the community attended the Park District Board meeting on January 24. Kevin McGurn and Nicole Kowrach addressed the commissioners during the public comment period, and were assured that the board wants to take up the matter on its agenda as soon as possible. 

On February 1, we met with several members of the Park District Staff to discuss what will be needed to move forward with the proposal. They informed us that they have been in contact with one member of the Paschen family who opposes the proposal. At that meeting, we pressed them to also reach out to the several Paschen family members who have expressed support for naming the park for the Pollard Family.

On February 11, the Chicago Tribune ran a Vintage Chicago Tribune article on the Pollard family. Thank you Ron Grossman for all your stories of Chicago’s past, and especially this one. Other media articles include Block Club Chicago and WLS-TV.

Once again, a group of community members attended the February 14 Park District Board of Commissioners meeting to push for action. After Dona Vitale spoke in the public comment period, the group met briefly with staff to again press them to reach out to more Paschen family members. In a subsequent telephone call, we were informed that they have done so, and will continue discussions with the family. 

We will be attending the next meeting of the Board of Commissioners on March 13, 11:30 a.m. at Park District Headquarters, 4830 South Western Avenue. All are welcome to join us.

A delegation of Rogers Park/West Ridge residents talked briefly after the meeting with Art Ridhardson (center) Director of Community Engagement. Photo by Christine Johnson.

On November 4, 2021, RPWRHS submitted  a proposal to the Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners to rename the park at 1932 West Lunt to honor the John and Amanda Pollard family. The Pollards were the first African-American residents of the Village of Rogers Park, who came to the community about 1886 from Missouri, where newly-enacted Jim Crow laws limited opportunities for their family after the Civil War and Reconstruction. 

The family owned the home at 1928 West Lunt, next to the park, for close to 70 years, and three generations of Pollards were part of our community until 1977.  The eight Pollard children went on to overcome prejudice and other obstacles to achieve success in a range of endeavors: nursing, early film-making, professional sports, journalism, business, civil rights activism and the arts, and we believe their lives can be an inspiration to the hundreds of children who use the park each year. One aspect of our proposal is to work with the Park District to create an exhibition about the Pollards for the park fieldhouse to educate community members about their full range of accomplishments.

The park is now named for Christian Paschen, a businessman, appointed city official and local politician in the 1920s, who has a checkered record at best. While serving as Chicago’s Building Commissioner appointed by Mayor William Hale Thompson, he was indicted for income tax evasion in 1931 and convicted in 1932. We believe removing his name from the the park and renaming it for the Pollard Family would appropriately reflect the values of integrity, inclusion, acceptance and diversity so widely held in our community today.

We have been patiently waiting for consideration of our proposal, recognizing that the Board of Commissioners have faced a long string of serious challenges since our proposal was submitted. But after two years, we are tired of waiting. 2024 is time for a yes-or-no decision. Our community deserves a response and we are not giving up until we get a hearing and a vote.  We will keep up pressure on the board until the matter is resolved.

Sign our new online petition demanding action on the proposal by clicking on the button below.

Here's a Little More About the Pollard Family

Parents John and Amanda Pollard. John was born to free Black parents in Virginia, who sent him to the Kansas Territory as a teenager where he enlisted in the Union Army at the start of the Civil War. After the war, a serious illness prevented him from attending Antioch University, so he trained as a barber while recovering. He met and married Amanda in Mexico, Missouri, where she was attending school, and their three eldest children were born there. In Chicago, Amanda became a sought-after seamstress who worked for Marshall Field & Company and other leading retailers while also managing the family's portfolio of real estate investments. Together, John and Amanda raised eight children as well as their grandson, Fritz Pollard Jr.
Fritz Pollard played football at Lane Tech High School with his two older brothers Leslie and Hughes, then went on to Brown University where he played quarterback. In 1916, he was the first African-American to play in the Rose Bowl. Fritz later became a coach in the newly-formed professional football league, and is the namesake of the Fritz Pollard initiative established by the NFL to increase diversity in coaching and management. After retirement from football, he became a New York City businessman, in partnership with his older brother Luther. Fritz had three daughters and one son, Fritz Jr., who lived at 1928 Lunt while attending Senn High School, was a member of the 1936 US Olympic Track Team, and worked for the U.S. State Department.
Eldest Pollard son, Luther, attended Lake View High School, where he was a star baseball player. He was a pioneer in the silent film industry, producing "race films" starring, among others, his youngest brother Franklin who became a teenage movie star., Luther later operated successful insurance, advertising and film production businesses in New York and Chicago. He and Fritz partnered in many ventures, and were early supporters of singer, actor and civil rights activist Paul Robeson. Two Pollard brothers died as young men, Leslie, a coach and sports journalist at 29 and Hughes, an internationally-known musician, at 35, leaving Luther, Fritz and Franklin, who eventually took over his father's barbershop. Luther was the last surviving Pollard sibling,. He lived with his wife Helen at 1928 West Lunt until his death in 1977.
Naomi Pollard was the middle of three Pollard daughters. Older sister Artimesia became the first African-American registered nurse in Illinois, and younger sister Ruby was an athlete at Lake View high school and caretaker of the Pollard household after the death of her mother. Naomi was the first African-American woman to graduate from Northwestern University, and became a teacher and librarian, serving for a time as Head Librarian at Wilberforce University in Ohio. She married Richard Dobson, a physician who also graduated from Northwestern. They lived in Sioux City Iowa, where Naomi was active in civic affairs, worked for integration of the city's swimming pools and founded the local NAACP chapter. She had one son, who, like his father, was a doctor, who practiced in New York City, where his parents joined him after the elder Dr. Dobson's retirement.