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

Kevin McGurn, speaking on behalf of the RPWRHS Pollard Park Task Force, delivered letters of support to the Chicago Park District Commissioners on April  10, 2024. Among the supporters whose letters were included were three members of the Pollard family, two members of the Paschen family, Alderwomen Maria Hadden, State Representative Kelly Cassidy, community groups, individual neighbors and even Jarrett Payton, son of the late Walter Payton. 

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Kevin McGurn spoke once again at the May 8 Board of Commissioners meeting, but Park District staff continued to hold to the position that the proposal could not go forward because the criteria for removing the Paschen name from the park had not been met. (See April 12 update for details of the criteria). We disagree with that decision. On May 23, representatives of the Pollard Park task force met with 49th Ward Alderwoman Maria Hadden to learn what options had been suggested to her in a meeting with General Superintendent Rosa Escareno and other Park District Staff held several days after the Board Meeting. The next step is for our task force to meet with the Alderwoman and the General Superintendent at Paschen Park to hear the Park District’s suggestions for honoring the Pollard family. The Alderwoman’s staff is working to schedule a meeting, and we will keep the public apprised of further developments as they occur.

Once again, a delegation of supporters attended the Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners. At the meeting, Kevin McGurn presented the commissioners with copies of letters of support for our proposal from 2 members of the Pollard family, 2 members of the Paschen family, our local political representatives, community organizations and individual neighbors. After the previous meeting, we had been asked to provide evidence of support from the Pollard family, and we were very pleased to be able to deliver these statements of support from three direct descendants of  Fritz Pollard, who, to our knowledge, represent the only two living branches of the Pollard family tree. We hoped that would be enough to encourage the commissioners to take action. 

Sadly, we were very disappointed. After Kevin address the board, President Hamilton thanked us and Superintendent Escareño asked us to talk with members of her staff to hear their take on the matter. In that meeting,  the staff representatives reported that a few members of the Paschen family continue to oppose removing the name of Christian Paschen from the park, and that the matter will not move forward until that faction is satisfied with a “compromise” because the Park District does not feel the criteria for removing a name from the park has been met.

The criteria for Park Naming and Renaming are found in Chapter 7, Section E.  of the Chicago Park District Code. The full document can be accessed online, but we have extracted relevant parts of that section here. According to footnotes in the document, these rules were added to the code on November 14, 2018 and October 14, 2020. 

  • E. 1. Naming and Renaming of Parks and Park Features; Generally: Written requests by mail with signatures or via email to name, rename or remove names of parks and features within parks (including buildings and facilities within parks) may be submitted to the General Superintendent or his/her designee by Chicago residents, public officials, and governmental entities that represent Chicago, or Park District staff. These written requests shall also include the proposed name or the name to be removed, the location of the park or park feature, the rationale for the request, and supporting documents as outlined in our naming procedures found on our website. 
  • E. 2. Criteria for Naming of Parks and Park Features: In considering a proposed name of a park or park feature, the General Superintendent or his/her designee shall consider the extent of public support for, and public opposition to, the proposed name. There shall be a general presumption in favor of names reflecting historical or physical features of neighborhoods, rather than names honoring persons or organizations. If a proposed name is of a person, then (i) the person shall have been deceased for at least one year prior to consideration; and (ii) the person shall have demonstrated a continued commitment and made an extraordinary contribution to civic betterment, locally, nationally or internationally.
  • 3. Criteria for Renaming of Parks and Park Features: In considering a proposed change of name for a previously named park or park feature, the General Superintendent or his/her designee shall consider the criteria listed in Section E.2. In addition, for parks or features within parks that are either named for a specific person or that have a known history attached to their name, the General Superintendent or his/her designee may consider alternative means of recognition to the proposed name change and there shall be a presumption in favor of retaining the existing name. Exceptions to the above criteria shall be made only upon a finding of an extraordinary circumstance by the General Superintendent.
  • E. 4. Rules and Procedure:  From time to time, current circumstances or sensibilities may warrant a reconsideration of a previously-approved park or park feature name, when that park or park feature is named for a historic person or event. In considering the removal of a previously-approved park name, the General Superintendent or his/her designee shall consider the criteria listed in Section E.2 above for the naming of Parks and Park Features, along with any new or additional information or historical background that may not have been previously considered. 

In our discussions, the staff has repeatedly stated that in their judgement, Christian Paschen’s civic and criminal record does not warrant removal of his name from the park.

We have asked for clarification of what would warrant removal of a name from a park, because we believe the record we have presented to the Park District should be considered, but they continue to tell us that their rule does not allow them to act. 

We are evaluating strategies as to how to move forward, but we are not going to give up!

On March 13, our delegation again attended the Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners meeting. Sarah Fiola, RPWRHS Board member and Social Media Chair shared some of the expressions of support our social media followers have posted. Pointing out that the community is puzzled by the seeming reluctance to consider our proposal, she urged the Commissioners to take up the matter as soon as possible. Paschen Park neighbor Christine Johnson followed, telling the commissioners of the central role the park plays in the life of the both adults and children in the neighborhood. She told Commissioners that support for the proposal is strong because honoring the accomplishments of the entire Pollard family reinforces her neighbors’ belief in the value of racial and ethnic acceptance, exploration of diverse cultures, and the importance of understanding the stories of early residents who helped create the community of today. After these powerful statements, the Commissioners once again expressed their intention to find a way to overcome objections to the proposal from one branch of the Paschen family. After the formal meeting, we met again with Park District staff, who asked us to get statements of support from surviving members of the Pollard family to move the matter forward. We are currently reaching out to the Pollard family members we have been able to identify, and would welcome hearing from other Pollard descendants, who can reach us by emailing DVitale@rpwrhs.org.

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.  That story prompted additional coverage, such as a positive post on the Hoodline Chicago page.

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.

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, and will continue the discussion in a meeting to be scheduled the week of February 12.

We will attend the February 14 Park District Board of Commissioners meeting to once again push for action.

The Campaign got off to a great start on January 10 when almost two dozen neighbors attended a community meeting at Paschen Park to discuss our action plan for the year.  The meeting generated coverage from several media outlets including an article by Block Club Chicago and a feature on WLS-TV on January 19. That coverage resulted in a contact from a member of the Paschen family who expressed support for the proposal and agreed to put us in touch with other family members. 

We’ll be attending the next meeting of the Park District Board of Commissioners on January 24 at 11:30 a.m. to insist that our proposal be taken up by the board without further delay.

RPWRHS Board of Directors announces a New Year’s Resolution to get a vote on our proposal for Pollard Park. An organizing meeting for neighbors to learn how to take part in the campaign will be held on January 10 at the Paschen Park Fieldhouse.

Today, the football field at Lane Tech High School was dedicated to Fritz Pollard, and October 1 has been declared Fritz Pollard Day in Chicago. Kevin McGurn, April Mink and Dona Vitale attended the dedication ceremony where we met a number of Pollard family members and friends, including Dr. Steven Townes, Fritz’s grandson. Also attending were members of the Lane Tech Alumni Pollard Committee, 47th Ward Alderman Matt Martin, Cook County Commissioner Donna Miller, Lane Tech Principal Edwina Thompson, and numerous Lane students, faculty and staff. 

Representing the Alumni group’s Pollard committee, Mr. Louis Carr, President of BET Media, a 1974 Lane Tech alum and member of the 1974 State Champion track team,  presented the dedication, after which the school unveiled four commemorative plaques telling the story of Fritz Pollard in Rogers Park, at Lane, in pro football and in his after-football life. The plaques surround the Addison Avenue entrances to the Lane Tech Stadium.

On September 14, Kevin McGurn spoke at the regular meeting of the Park District Board of Commissioners, asking them to advance the proposal as soon as possible. Conversations with board members after the meeting were encouraging and we will continue to press for action. 

Meanwhile, the football field at Lane Tech High School has been renamed for Fritz Pollard, and the city has declared that October 1 will be Fritz Pollard Day. 

The proposal continues to generate media interest. The campaign was featured on “Live from the Heartland” in an interview by host Michael James. A  video of the program can be seen any time at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vHsYlv4r4z0 or subscribe to the Live From the Heartland podcast on Google or Spotify. 

As Black History Month draws to a close, we are happy to report new activity and several new media stories related to our Pollard Park proposal. The Pollard Family was subject of a major segment in Black History Verified with popular Chicago neighborhood historian, Shermann “Dilla” Thomas which can be viewed at https://www.wciu.com/cw26/videos/black-history-verified-a-family-of-firsts.  More major new coverage came on February 17, when WTTW Channel 11 posted a feature its website.

The Park District has asked that letters of support for the proposal be emailed to lca@chicagoparkdistrict.com. So far, we have forwarded letters of support we have received from neighbors of the park, local public officials, academics who are interested in various members of the Pollard family and their history, and even one from Jarrett Payton, son of the late Chicago Bears star, Walter Payton.

The first media story on the Pollard Park proposal ran on November 5 on WFLD Fox 32 News. An article appeared in Block Club Chicago on November 11, the same day that Chicago Magazine posted a story on its website. 

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.
Kevin McGurn and April Mink, who now own the Pollard family home, with Dr. Steven Townes and Dona Vitale at the dedication of Fritz Pollard Field at Lane Tech High School, October 1, 2022.

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.