Black Chicago Commemorates the 85th Annual Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic

Everyone who is anyone is said to have participated in the Bud Billiken parade -- from Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan, Barack Obama. Photo: Joe Lewis in Bud Billiken Parade.
August 9, 2014 marks the 85th annual Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic celebration -- commencing from 35th to 55th & Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive. Held in Chicago, Illinois annually, the parade is the oldest running African American parade in the United States of America. It is also the second largest parade in the country. Effectively, the parade, kicks off the traditional start of the school year. It marks the end of summer vacation for the young people in the Chicago, which hosts among the largest communities of people of African descent in the USA.

Portion of the Bud Billiken Day Parade, August 1948.

Portion of the Bud Billiken Day Parade, August 1973.

South Shore Drill Team performs at the 2011 Bud Billiken parade in Chicago's Bronzeville. (Photo: Kalle Eko)

The fictional character Bud Billiken was created in 1923 by Robert Sengstacke Abbott, the founder of the Chicago Defender newspaper. Before the parade began in 1929, there was a long-running Billiken newspaper column written by the famed African-American novelist Willard Motley. Embodying the hope of the African American community, for a time the Bud Billiken character also emerged into a popular comic strip in the Chicago Defender newspaper. Abbott also founded a Bud Billiken Club which continues to provide youth scholarships and training opportunities.

Chicago Defender's Bud Billiken Parade float hosts the annual King, Queen and Royal Court winners from its annual Bud Billiken youth contest. Contest winners are based on a results of a subscription drive and oral and written essay contest.

Dancers Perform at the 2012 Bud Billiken Parade (Photo: Kalle Eko)
The Bud Billiken parade was developed in 1929 and is always held the second Saturday in August to kick off the back-to-school year. It draws numerous community booths and parade floats hosted by community organizations, local businesses and government agencies -- using the gathering to distribute information and donate school supplies and other goodies to young people.

The parade occurs in the Bronzeville neighborhood on Chicago's south side, the traditional settlement of African Americans to the region during the Great Migration from southern states. The parade is now the largest parade celebration in the city of Chicago, drawing an annual local production of costumes and parade floats. It features youth marching bands, drummers, step shows, acrobats, youth dancers and more.

Photographs of Children Along Bud Billiken's Parade Route (Photo: Kalle Eko)

At the end of the parade, families and friends gather in the city's Washington Park to end the festivities with a community-wide picnic. The collective coordination of the community to bring wide youth participation in the parade is displayed by the proud shouts of encouragement supporting the creative showcase of Black Chicago from family and friends lining the miles of covered terrain. 

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