Iconic event canceled for the first time in 91 years because of pandemic
By Crusader Staff Report
There won’t be any marching bands or floats on King Drive this summer.
The iconic Bud Billiken Parade, which for decades marched down King Drive in Chicago as it became the largest Black parade in America, has been cancelled for the first time in the event’s 91-year history.
ABC7 reported on Monday, June 29 that the event will not happen on August 8 because of concerns of COVID-19. The television station, which broadcasts the event every year, said the event will continue in an ABC7 Chicago Special, “Bud Billiken: Celebrating 91 Years.”ABC 7 said the special will air on August 8 at 1 p.m. and will be hosted by ABC7’s Cheryl Burton, Jim Rose and Hosea Sanders.
The Crusader tried unsuccessfully to reach Myiti Sengstacke-Rice, President and CEO of the Robert Sengstacke Foundation, formerly known as the Chicago Defender Charities, which organizes and produces the Bud Billiken Parade. A message was left on the organization’s voicemail Monday, but was not returned by Crusader press time, which was moved up a day because of the upcoming Fourth of July holiday weekend.
Sengstacke-Rice told ABC7 that “Even though we will miss the anticipation and excitement that comes when the Bud Billiken Parade marches down the streets of Chicago, we are steadfast in our goal to support education and the performing arts. We are grateful to ABC 7 for making sure that the fun, tradition and spirit of our beloved parade will be carried on through an hour-long special broadcast.”
“The rich legacy of the Bud Billiken parade is a story that needs to be passed on even when faced with the challenges of a pandemic. Together with the Chicago Defender Charities our ABC 7’s Bud Billiken special celebrates 91 years of a longstanding summer tradition, spanning generations and continuing to celebrate the importance of education,” said ABC 7 President and General Manager, John Idler in a statement.
Created in 1929 by Chicago Defender founder Robert Sengstacke Abbott, the Bud Billiken Parade aimed to honor the newspaper’s newsboys. Bud Billiken was named after a charm doll that was an embodiment of good luck and fortune. The character also served as a guardian of children.
Over the years, the Bud Billiken parade has grown into a five-hour spectacle and a back to school tradition that ends with a massive picnic in Washington Park.
The Bud Billiken Parade is the largest Black parade in the country where hundreds of thousands line King Drive to view floats, marching bands and the parade’s Royal Court featuring Black youth. Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Rapper T.I, Michael Jordan and the late Mayor Harold Washington are among numerous celebrities who have served as the parade’s Grand Marshall. For many, the parade is an all-day affair where families have barbeques in front yards and gatherings with neighbors and visitors from out of town.
Since the pandemic, organizers have alerted fans on their website that they were monitoring the developments of the coronavirus pandemic as they remained in “continuous contact with health officials, while also following recommendations from the Center for Disease Control.”
With Chicago moving into the Phase 4 stage of the pandemic, there was some hope that conditions would further improve by the time the parade would be held on August 8. But Governor J.B. Pritzker has been opposed to festivals and large-scale events being held in Illinois until a vaccination becomes available.
Earlier this month, Pritzker cancelled all events scheduled at McCormick Place, including the rescheduled Black Women’s Expo.
In April, WVON cancelled its 10th annual Taste of WVON that was scheduled July 18. In 2019, the event drew an estimated 30,000 people at Chicago State University.
Earlier this month, Mayor Lori Lightfoot cancelled all summer events, including the annual Taste of Chicago and Lollapalooza.
As one of Chicago’s Black newspapers with a citywide distribution, our mission is to provide readers with factual news and in-depth coverage of its impact in the Black community. The Rona Reports are stories of Black resilience in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. This Rona Report is made possible by the Chicago COVID-19 Journalism Fund, which is a grant from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.
First published in the print edition of the Chicago Crusader Newspaper on July 4, 2020.