Billiken parade celebrates 80 years of family fun

August 6, 2009 (CHICAGO) Sponsored by The Chicago Defender Charities, the parade was originated by the newspaper's founder, Robert Abbott.

It feels like a trip down memory lane, black and white photos dating back to the early 1930's document an era gone by.

"In those days, it was the biggest event in the African-American community...I remember one time I met a guy who came all the way from California," said Robert Abbott Sengstacke, Chicago Defender.

Robert Abbott Sengstacke is the great nephew of Robert Abbott, the man who founded The Chicago Defender and the Bud Billiken Parade. He donated photos and many historic documents held by his family to the Woodson Public Library in 2007. The pictures tell the story of how the legendary parade began.

"The Bud Billiken Parade started as a parade to honor the newsboys in 1929," said Michael Flug Sr., Woodson Public Library archivist. "What they would do is gather at the Defender office at 35th and Indiana and walk as a group as a little parade of children to Washington Park where they had ice cream and cake."

Three years later the newspaper decided to make it a public event. A long list of celebrities, including Muhammad Ali, made it a premier tour stop. A young Nat King Cole once won a turkey at the parade.

"I didn't know and I don't think most people knew the level of big stars of entertainment who participated in those parades, Duke Ellington, Earl "Father" Hines, two giants of jazz, and Noble Cecil, who had done the famous Shuffle Along musical on Broadway," said Flug.

As time marches, celebrities still roll through. This year's theme celebrates President and Mrs. Obama -- "Education: Yes We Can."

"It's a day for the children, and that's what's important," said Sengstacke.

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