Since 1929, the Bud Billiken Day Parade and Picnic has been a central part of the Chicago African-American community’s summer. Learn more about the parade’s history and organization with this history, which was provided by the parade’s organizers.
The first Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic was held August 11, 1929. The parade route ran from 31st and Michigan Boulevard to Washington Park. In the mid-30’s the city rerouted the parade to South Parkway because its Michigan route tied up traffic as it went east into Washington Park. Around 1947, it was rerouted back to Michigan due to street repairs on South Parkway. After the street repairs the Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic returned to South Parkway and has remained there ever since. South Parkway, now named Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, runs through the African American community on the City’s Southside.
Since the Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic began more than 70 million children and their families have made the second Saturday in August a day of community and celebration of African American togetherness and just plain fun.
What began as the wish of Chicago Defender’s founder Robert S. Abbott to organize the many youth who sold the newspaper, mushroomed into what is now the largest African American parade in the United States.
A brainstorming session between Abbott and his managing editor Luscious Harper produced the name Bud Billiken, and a club which David W. Kellum established, complete with membership cards and identification buttons.
During a conference Kellum held with Edgar G. Trown, president of the National Negro Council, and George T. Donoghue, superintendent of the South Park Board, the men decided to hold a Bud Billiken Day picnic.
The overwhelming success of the event gave underprivileged children a chance to be in the limelight for one day by wearing costumes, marching in a parade and “being seen,” according to Vernon Blanchet, one of the first parade marshals.
Frank Godsen and Charles Correll of Amos and Andy fame were the first guests of honor in a parade attended by thousands and led by Robert S. Abbott riding in his Rolls Royce automobile.
As president of the Chicago Defender Charities, Inc., Dr. Marjorie Stewart Joyner would pick up the parade organizing torch and carry it for more than 50 years.
In 1995, Col. Eugene L. Scott, former publisher of the Chicago Defender Newspaper, took over the helm as president of Chicago Defender Charities, bringing 28 years of military experience to the parade. As it continues to evolve, he remains true to Robert S. Abbott’s dictum “Take Care of the People and the People will Take Care of You.”
The Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic is held on the second Saturday of August, come rain or shine. Celebrities are certainly no stranger to the parade and everyone from Presidents to boxers to movie stars take their place and thrill the hundreds of thousands of women, children, and men who line-up early in the morning to ensure their spot in this longstanding proud tradition.
Some of the celebrities who have graced the parade’s route over the years include Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Duke Ellington, Oprah Winfrey, Hop-Along Cassidy, Lena Horne, Spike Lee, L.L. Cool J, Bozo the Clown, Jack Brickhouse, Frank Thomas, Michael Jordan, President Harry S. Truman, Brandy, Queen Latifah and, in 2006 and 2007, Barack Obama as grand marshal.
The 2003 Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic included a free concert held after the parade featuring the award winning singing group B2K. There are first aid stations, lost and found areas and more than 200 parade marshals on hand to help ensure that the parade is enjoyed by all.