Proposal to Remove Washington, Jackson Statues Draws Death Threats, Pastor Says

A Chicago-area pastor has requested that Washington and Jackson Park be renamed, and that statues of the two former presidents be removed. In response, he has received death threats, he says. 

Rev. James Dukes says that the number of hate messages he has received since making his proposal has surpasssed hundreds, but he says that he just wants to respect the suffering of those in his community. 

"We can have public hearings and the public can engage my only fear is if that happens others from around the country will come and we surely don't want another Charlottesville in Chicago!," he said. 

His recommendation comes in the aftermath of violent protests in Charlottesville, VA over the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue. 

Dukes wants Washington Park to be renamed after former Chicago mayor Harold Washington, and for Jackson Park to be renamed after the Reverend Jesse Jackson. 

For this part, Jackson declined the proposal, saying instead that he wants to focus on more immediate concerns. 

“What we need to do now is focus on what has happened in the reversal of our civil rights struggle under (Attorney General Jeff) Sessions,” Rev. Jackson said. 

Mayor Rahm Emanuel also rejected the idea, saying that the neighborhood names and statues will remain intact. 

“I want to be clear as it relates to Washington Park and Jackson Park: they will stay named after the presidents who helped keep this union together,” he said. 

The same cannot be said of the Italo Balbo monument, a long-time fixture in the Burnham Park neighborhood. 

That statue, donated to the city by former Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, could come down, and one alderman is offering a proposal to do just that. 

“Balbo was the number one sidekick for Benito Mussolini,” 36th Ward Ald. Gilbert Villegas said. “I think there's other Italians that have done great things for the city of Chicago and the country in general.” 

Mayor Emanuel says that there will be discussions about whether to remove the Balbo monument, saying that "there is time to work together on that." 

While the push to remove the Balbo monument has some supporters, Rev. Dukes isn't swayed by the opposition he's faced after suggesting that a similar fate befall statues honoring Washington and Jackson. 

"It just shows that this is a deep seeded problem in America and we need to address it," he said. 

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