Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic

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Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic

Date Observed: Second Saturday in August
Location: Chicago, Illinois

The annual Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic is held on the second Saturday in August. The event, held since 1929, is named after a fictional character featured in the pages of the Chicago Defender newspaper. The annual celebration is a salute to the community's youth and a gigantic back-to-school rally.

Historical Background

On May 5, 1905, Robert S. Abbott established the Chicago Defender, which became one of the most important African-American newspapers in the nation. The paper spoke out against racist practices, advocated for civil rights, and encouraged black migration to the city. The paper also listed contacts for churches and other groups that would assist newcomers with housing, employment, and acclimation to the city (from 1910 to 1930, Chicago's African-American population grew from 44,000 to 235,000).

In 1923 Abbott added a special page for children. The Chicago Defender was the first newspaper in the U.S. to include such a feature. It was called the Bud Billiken page, which also served as the forum for the Bud Billiken Club, complete with membership cards and buttons.

Bud Billiken is not a real person; Abbott and his managing editor Lucious Harper made up the name. According to some accounts, "Bud" was Harper's nickname, and "Billiken" came from the name of a Buddha-like good-luck figurine popular during the early 1900s. The Bud Billiken character was intended to be a protector of children.

Creation of the Observance

By 1929 the Bud Billiken character and club were so popular that Abbott decided to organize an event for children. The idea was to show appreciation for the young people who delivered the paper and also to delight and inspire young African-American children by creating a venue where they would have a chance to be in the spotlight. The first parade was held on August 11, 1929. Abbott kicked off the parade riding in his Rolls Royce, and children in costumes followed. In 1946 the Chicago Defender Charities took over organizing the event and has managed it ever since.

Observance

The Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic is a much-anticipated annual event in Chicago. As such, even though official festivities do not begin until the parade starts at 10 A.M., people begin staking out prime spots along Martin Luther King, Jr., Drive in the early hours each second Saturday in August. An estimated 65,000 people took part in the 2005 parade, with spectators estimated at well over a million and television viewers reaching in excess of 25,000,000 (the parade receives both local and national cable coverage).

The Bud Billiken Parade is chock-full of typical parade fare, but on a fairly grand scale; it is promoted as the largest of its kind in the country. Close to 200 floats and vehicles take part, as do countless marching bands and various other types of entertainers. Each year, a King and Queen are announced and they preside over the festivities. National figures also take part. Past parades have hosted Oprah Winfrey, Spike Lee, Bozo the Clown, Jesse Jackson, Muhammad Ali, Duke Ellington, Michael Jordan, and U.S. Senator Barack Obama.

After the excitement of the parade has ended and the second half of the day begins, people get down to the serious business of eating at the Bud Billiken Picnic. Other events include drill team and drum corps competitions, entertainment by local performers, and lots of activities planned to keep young people occupied and happy on their special day.

Contacts and Web Sites

Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau 2301 S. Lake Shore Dr. Chicago, IL 60616 312-567-8500; fax: 312-567-8533

Chicago Defender 200 S. Michigan Ave. Chicago, IL 60604 312-225-2400; fax: 312-225-9231

Chicago Defender Charities, Inc. 700 E. Oakwood Blvd., 5th Fl. Chicago, IL 60616 773-536-3710; fax: 773-536-3718

Encyclopedia of Chicago, an online cooperative effort of the Chicago Historical Society, the Newberry Library and Northwestern University

Further Reading

Adero, Malaika. Up South: Stories, Studies, and Letters of This Century's African American Migrations. New York: The New Press, 1994. Arnesen, Eric J. Black Protest and the Great Migration: A Brief History with Docu- ments. Boston: Bedford Book/St. Martin's, 2002. Ottley, Roi. The Lonely Warrior: The Life and Times of Robert S. Abbott. Chicago: H. Regnery, 1955. Reed, Christopher Robert. Black Chicago's First Century, Volume 1, 1833-1900. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2005. Simmons, Charles A. The African American Press: A History of News Coverage During National Crises, with Special Reference to Four Black Newspapers, 1827-1965. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, 2006.
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