John and Amanda Pollard came to Rogers Park in the 1880’s. John was the son of free Black Virginians who sent him west to Leavenworth Kansas to avoid the risk of capture and enslavement. There, he entered the Union Army at the age of 15, and at the end of the Civil War, returned to Kansas, where he trained as a barber. He opened a shop in Mexico, Missouri where he met and married Amanda Hughes, a talented and enterprising woman who had come to the town to further her education. They stayed in Missouri until after the birth of their first three children, but they realized that the state’s racial policies severely restrict their family’s educational and career opportunities. So John, Amanda and their children moved to Chicago, where five more children were added to the family. All were comfortably supported by the successful barber shop John opened in Rogers Park in 1886 and Amanda’s career as an accomplished dressmaker for fine department stores such as Marshall Field & Company. In 1911, John and Amanda purchased the home at 1928 West Lunt two blocks from the barbershop. They were the first and for a time, the only African-American family in the neighborhood.
Here they raised eight children who rose to local or national prominence in their chosen fields. The Pollard children were Artimissia, the first licensed Black nurse in Illinois; Luther, one of the first Black silent film directors and producers in the US; Naomi, the first Black woman graduate of Northwestern University; Fritz, the first Black quarterback and head coach in pro football; as well as Hughes, a world-famous jazz musician, Leslie, a football coach and sports writer, Franklin, who acted in silent movies produced by his brother and others; and Ruth, who worked as a secretary and lived in the family home all her life. A grandchild, Fritz Pollard Junior, won a bronze medal in the 1936 Olympics, behind teammates Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe, and went on to a distinguished career in the US Department of State. The family retained ownership of the home on Lunt until after Luther’s death in the 1970s.
Working with a group of local residents including Kevin McGurn and April Mink, who now own the Pollard’s long-time home, the Roger’s Park/West Ridge Historical Society is spearheading a campaign to rename the park next to their home in their honor.
The park at 1932 West Lunt is now known as Christian Paschen Park, named after the Chicago Building Commissioner who helped obtain a lease for the park land in the 1920s. Paschen’s connection to the park is limited and his record as Building Commissioner includes multiple charges of political corruption and favoritism to powerful interests. He was indicted and convicted for tax evasion related to his governmental duties, and served a two-year prison sentence from 1932- 1934.
Given Mr. Paschen’s record, we believe it is appropriate to ask the Chicago Park District to change the name to The Pollard Family Park in recognition of the family’s many achievements and their close ties to the park iteself.
Sign our online petition in support of this proposal by clicking on the button below.