The Story of Washington Park
With its proximity to the former site of the 1893 world’s fair and a prominent African American history museum, the Washington Park community area has a deep history at nearly every turn. Washington Park is on the South Side of Chicago spanning 51st Street to 63rd Street. The entire eastern portion of the community is a large park of the same name that connects to the Midway Plaisance park, the University of Chicago, and the Hyde Park community area. The Midway Plaisance runs all the way to Jackson Park, the site of the Museum of Science and Industry and the former site of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. Washington Park, Jackson Park, and the Midway Plaisance were all designed by famous landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux.
Irish and German immigrants who worked for the railroad and meatpacking industries first settled in the area in the 1860s, according to the Encyclopedia of Chicago. Starting in the early 20th century, African Americans moved into the community as the Great Migration brought in those leaving the Jim Crow South.
In 1919, a race riot erupted in the community after an African American boy named Eugene Williams drowned at 29th Street Beach. He and a small group of other boys had inadvertently drifted into the “white only” section of the lake, and a group of whites threw stones at the group. Police refused to arrest the white man accused of Williams’s death. By the end of the several-day-long riot, 38 people had been killed, 500 injured, and 1,000 were homeless and countless properties had been destroyed.
Washington Park also became known for its African American churches, such as St. Anselm, St. Edmund, Bethesda Baptist Church, and St. Mary’s African Methodist Episcopal Church. The community was also the location of the Robert Taylor Homes, a public housing high-rise complex that started as an ambitious urban renewal project but was torn down after gang violence, poverty, and poor building management plagued the project.
Every year, the Bud Billiken Parade, an annual tradition dating back to 1929 that celebrates the history and pride of the South Side with music, dance, and a picnic, goes through Washington Park.
The Green Line stops at Garfield in Washington Park. Below the present-day, redesigned stop is the original station house, which dates back to 1892, according to Chicago-L.org.
Neighborhood Spotlight: The DuSable Museum of African American History
Nestled among the greenery of Washington Park is the DuSable Museum of African American History, founded in 1961. It is a Washington Park landmark and one of the largest African American museums in the country.
Founded by teacher and art historian Dr. Margaret Burroughs and other Chicagoans, the DuSable Museum remains one of the few independent institutions in America developed to “preserve and interpret experiences and achievements of people of African descent,” according to its website.
The museum features more than 15,000 pieces, including paintings, sculptures, and historical memorabilia.
Things to Do
Check out the exhibits at the DuSable Museum, and visit sculptor Loredo Taft’s Fountain of Time near 59th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue, a large sculpture of Father Time and 100 human figures above a reflecting pool.