Campaign Update as of October 1, 2022
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. The dedication ceremony was attended by Pollard family members, including Dr. Steven Townes, Fritz’s grandson, as well as 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 committee, Mr. Louis Carr, President of BET Media, 1974 Lane Tech alum and member of the 1974 State Champion track team presented the dedication, after which the school unveiled four 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 Addision 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.
Our proposal was submitted to the Chicago Park District on November 4, 2021 and is currently awaiting consideration by the Park District Board of Commissioners. 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. Other major media coverage include a major segment in Black History Verified with popular Chicago neighborhood historian, Shermann “Dilla” Thomas. More major new coverage came on February 17, in a comprehensive article about the Pollards on the WTTW website.
The Park District has asked that letters of support for the proposal be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. On February 22, we submitted the community petition signed by 788 individual supporters as of that date, and are still gathering more signatures. Others have sent letters directly to the Park District, supporting the proposal and some specifically asking for the name of Christian Paschen to be removed from the park. More letters are welcome.
As of this week, the Petition in support of the proposal has gathered 892 signatures. If you haven’t yet signed the petition, please consider doing so by clicking on the button below. If you have already signed, pass along the petition information to your friends and family or post a link to this page on social media to help us reach 1,000 supporters.
We will update again as soon as we learn when our proposal gets on the Board meeting agenda for consideration.
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.