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Frederick Douglass dedication in Jackson Park

A commemorative marker honoring Frederick Douglass is being dedicated Friday at noon in Jackson Park at the site of the Haitian Pavilian, where Douglass served as special commissioner during the 1893 Columbian Exposition.  (It’s off the Science Drive exit, 5800 south, on Lake Short Drive).

The story of Douglass’ involvement in the Columbian Exposition goes beyond the Haitian Pavillion.  He also backed Ida B. Wells’ protest against the exclusion of African Americans from the fair planning bodies and activities. 

Together they produced and published the pamphlet “The Reason Why the Colored American is Not in the World’s Columbian Exposition” (reissued by University of Illinois Press about ten years ago).  Wells noted that with Douglass’ appointment by the government of Haiti, the African American “received from a foreign power the place denied to him at home.” 

And when as a result of that protest, the exposition belatedly announced a “Colored People’s Day,” Douglass gave the keynote.  When rowdies in the back of the packed Festival Hall began heckling him, he discarded his prepared remarks and addressed them:

“Men talk of the Negro problem.  There is no Negro problem.  The problem is whether the American people have honesty enough, loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough to live up to their own Constitution.”

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Category: African Americans, history, parks

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