DOWNTOWN — Chicagoans have joined the push to remove monuments to fascists and slaveholders after national controversy over the removal of Confederate statues.
Aldermen are looking to remove the Balbo Monument and possibly rename Balbo Drive, which pay tribute to a fascist Italian general, according to a Sun-Times report. Others have called for parks — including Washington and Jackson — to be renamed because the names honor slave owners.
One petition to remove the Balbo Monument and rename Balbo Drive has gathered more than 180 signatures this week, and another is calling for the road to be renamed Ida B. Wells Way.
The Balbo Monument, which is a column atop a pedestal, was gifted to the city by fascist Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in the early 1930s. Mussolini — who passed anti-Semitic laws, perpetrated war crimes and was an ally of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler during World War II — gave the monument to Chicago in honor of Gen. Italo Balbo's flight from Rome to Chicago.
Balbo was himself a fascist organizer and a powerful member of Mussolini's government until his death in 1940. The monument resides in Burnham Park, 5491 S. Lake Shore Drive.
"Chicago has a little Mussolini problem," one person on Twitter said of the monument.
"Chicago has a monument to balbo, a street named after balbo, and a monument in a mass grave of confederates and we should tear em all down," another tweeted.
Others have argued the monument honors the relationship between Italy and Chicago.
Chicago has a monument to balbo, a street named after balbo, and a monument in a mass grave of confederates and we should tear em all down https://t.co/7ZEbTkgd4E— Jiminy Snackmouth (@jlongstreet) August 17, 2017
And James Dukes, the pastor of the Liberation Christian Center church, is calling for the removal of a statue of President George Washington near Washington Park, according to CBS2. He's also asking the city's leaders to rename that park and Jackson Park since Washington and President Andrew Jackson were slave owners.
Dukes told CBS2 he'd be happy with the parks keeping their names, but in honor of other people. The parks could instead memorialize Harold Washington, Chicago's first black mayor, and Rev. Jesse Jackson or Michael Jackson, he suggested.
In a similar move in June, a group of fifth-graders asked the city to change Douglas Park's name to Douglass Park. The park is currently named after Stephen Douglas, a politician who opposed abolishing slavery and ran against Abraham Lincoln. Renaming the spot to Douglass Park would instead honor black abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
The Confederate Mound in Oak Woods Cemetery on the South Side has generated less conversation — though it stands near the graves of black pioneers like Ida B. Wells and Harold Washington.
The monument rests atop a mass grave for Confederate soldiers captured during the Civil War and held in Camp Douglas, which was notorious for abhorrent conditions that led to thousands of deaths from disease.
"We can't erase the Civil War. We can't erase the fact that there was a Confederacy and a Union," Dukes told the Tribune in a report on the monument. "But at the same time, those type of monuments acknowledge the fact that Harold Washington could become the mayor of Chicago because of the victory that took place over the Confederacy.
"I don't see it as a contradiction or a disrespect."
Activist Timuel Black told the Tribune many black Chicagoans may not know about the Confederate Mound because they weren't allowed to be buried in the cemetery for much of its history.
The removal of monuments honoring Confederate leaders or others who were racist — many of which were put up during the Jim Crow and Civil Rights eras — has led to national debate.
On Thursday morning, President Donald Trump tweeted that it was "sad to see history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments."
Protests organized by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., last weekend were sparked by the planned removal of a Confederate monument. That movement gained worldwide attention when a white supremacist ran over a crowd of counterprotesters, killing anti-fascist demonstrator Heather Heyer.
In 1933 fascist Italian General Balbo visited Chicago, a street was named for him & monument donated by Mussolini was erected in his honor.— agitator in chief (@soit_goes) August 15, 2017
Hey Chicago, is anyone organizing around finally getting rid of Balbo Drive and the monument given current momentum? https://t.co/QA7KFQaGGR— Sandy Johnston (@sandypsj) August 17, 2017
Speaking of the desecration of white supremacist monuments, Chicago has a little Mussolini problem https://t.co/lDqe9MaKI7— Ben van Loon (@benvanloon) August 16, 2017