On Saturday, August 10, the Bud Billiken Parade celebrates its 90th anniversary! The iconic parade has marched down Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive since 1929. It's a celebration of students going back to school and highlights the significance of education.
The parade starts at 35th Street and stretches approximately 2 miles down Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, through the historic Bronzeville neighborhood, culminating in a large picnic in Washington Park.
The procession is led by a grand marshal and royal court. Over 200 marching bands, drills teams, dance teams, tumblers and other talents travel from all over the country to participate in four categories: drill, dance, marching bands and cheerleading. Numerous celebrities and dignitaries have attended the parade over the years, including President Harry Truman, Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, Duke Ellington, Oprah Winfrey, Cab Calloway, Paul Robeson and Billie Holiday. Chicago natives Chaka Khan, Chance the Rapper, rapper T. I. and President Barack Obama (while a U.S. senator) have served as grand marshals for the parade.
The largest African American parade event in the United States was co-founded by Robert S. Abbott. Abbott launched a four-page, six-column folded sheet called the Chicago Defender in 1905. In 1921, the Defender added a children’s section called Defender Junior, with a fictional editor named Bud Billiken. The name "Bud Billiken" is a pseudonym that Abbott selected, combining his own nickname, "Bud," with "Billiken," which was believed to be in reference to a mythological Chinese character who was the protector of children.
Children could apply to be members of the Bud Billiken Club, and editors took turns writing Billiken’s weekly column. Novelist Willard Motley served as the voice of Bud Billiken as a teenager. When David Kellum became editor of the section in 1927, he, along with Abbott and Lucius Harper, developed the idea for an annual Defender-sponsored parade to honor the paper's newsboys.
Later, entrepreneur and philanthropist Marjorie Stewart Joyner fostered a close relationship with the Abbott-Sengstacke family and greatly influenced the Bud Billiken Parade. Joyner served as the chair of Chicago Defender Charities and as president of its annual Bud Billiken Parade from the 1930s through the 1980s. As the leader of the Chicago Defender Charities, founded in 1945, she led its efforts to provide food and clothing to some of the neediest African American families in the city.
Are you planning on attending this year's 90th anniversary parade? Do you have a favorite Bud Billiken Parade memory? Please share in the comments below.
Learn more about the Chicago Defender by checking out these books on African American journalism or take a look at these recommendations.
Check out the Robert S. Abbott - John H. Sengstacke Family Papers in the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature at Woodson Regional Library. Robert S. Abbott founded the Chicago Defender in 1905; his nephew John H. Sengstacke took over the family’s newspapers upon Abbott’s death in 1940. The papers trace the Abbott-Sengstacke family history from the mid-19th century in Georgia through Abbott’s move to Chicago and creation of a journalistic empire, to the death of Sengstacke in 1997.
Along the Streets of Bronzeville examines the flowering of African American creativity, activism and scholarship in the Southside Chicago district known as Bronzeville during the period between the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s.
Chicago Defender was written by Myiti Sengstacke Rice, daughter of Robert Sengstacke.
The Defender offers a comprehensive history of the legendary newspaper.
The Chicago Defender Historical Archive (1910-1975) and the Chicago Tribune Historical Archive (1849-1990) offer full-text access to these newspapers. Use these online resources to find articles about the Bud Billiken Parade, its history and legacy.
Browse the HistoryMakers oral history online resource to view firsthand accounts of Bud Billiken Parade organizers and participants.