Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic

The Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic (also known as The Bud Billiken Day Parade) is an annual parade held since 1929[3] in Chicago, Illinois. The Bud Billiken Day Parade is the largest African-American parade in the United States. Held annually on the city's south side on the second Saturday in August,[4][5] the parade route travels on Dr. Martin Luther King Drive through the Bronzeville and Washington Park[6] neighborhoods. At the end of the parade, in the historic Washington public park is a picnic and festival. Robert S. Abbott, the founder and publisher of the Chicago Defender, created the fictional character of Bud Billiken, which he featured in as youth advice column in his paper. David Kellum, co-founder of the Bud Billiken Club and longtime parade coordinator[7][8] suggested the parade as a celebration of African-American life.

Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic
Bud Billiken Logo.jpg
Date(s)Every second Saturday in August
Location(s)East 35th to 55th Streets on South Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive

Chicago, Illinois
CountryUnited States
Years active1929 (1929)–present[1][2]
InauguratedAugust 10, 1929; 93 years ago (1929-08-10)[citation needed]
FounderRobert Sengstacke Abbott
Most recentAugust 13, 2022
Next eventAugust 12, 2023

Since its beginning, the parade has featured celebrities, politicians, businessmen, civic organizations and youth. It is considered the second largest parade in the United States,[9][10][11][12][13] whose focus is on celebrating youth, education and African-American life. The parade is also cited as the "back-to-school" celebration, marking the end of summer vacation and resuming of school for Chicago's youth.[14][15][16]


Chicago Department of Human Resource float in the 1973 parade. Photo by John H. White.
Barack Obama float for 2004 U.S. Senate race in the 2004 parade.
Miss Black Illinois in the 2004 parade.
U.S. Navy band marches in the 2008 parade.
Anti-violence group for a Chicago high school in the 2008 parade.
Hillcrest High School marching band in the 2008 parade.

Bud Billiken is a fictional character created in 1923 by Abbott, who had been considering adding a youth section to the Chicago Defender newspaper. While dining at a Chinese restaurant he noticed a Billiken. Some of the early Billiken columns were written by Willard Motley, who later became a prominent novelist. During the early 1930s, names of international youth were listed in the "Bud Billiken" section of the newspaper every week. Between 1930 and 1934, approximately 10,000 names appeared and were archived in the Carter G. Woodson Regional Library of the Chicago Public Library.[17]

During the Great Depression, Abbott featured the Bud Billiken character in his newspaper as a symbol of pride, happiness and hope for black residents.[18] The character gained prominence in a comic strip and the Chicago Defender newspaper.[18] Although the character was created in 1923, the parade did not begin until 1929, when David Kellum initiated it as a celebration of the "unity in diversity for the children of Chicago". It has since grown to become a locally televised event and the second largest parade in the nation.[17]

The parade, which began on August 10, 1929,[19] now includes politicians, beauty queens, celebrities, musical performers, and dozens of marching, tumbling and dancing groups.[18] It has grown from a locally sponsored event to one with major corporate presence and is seen as a signal of the impending end of summer and beginning of the new school year.[18] As such the parade sponsors raise money for college scholarships for local youth.[18] The parade route has changed over the years. The original route was along Michigan Avenue beginning at 31st Street, then turned east into Washington Park. Complaints for north–south traffic flow caused rerouting the parade route to South Parkway (now named Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive), which runs directly into the park. At various times, street repairs have necessitated use of the Michigan route, but the current route is now the King Drive route.[19] Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll of Amos 'n' Andy were the first guests in the first parade. Robert S. Abbott led the first parade in his Rolls-Royce. Dr. Marjorie Stewart Joyner, president of the Chicago Defender Charities, Inc., organized the parade for over 50 years. Numerous high-profile celebrities and dignitaries have attended the parade over the years, including U.S. President Harry S. Truman,[20] Michael Jordan, Barack Obama, Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Duke Ellington, Adelaide Hall,[21] Oprah Winfrey, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Lena Horne, James Brown, Ethel Waters, Cab Calloway, Paul Robeson, Chaka Khan and Billie Holiday.[18][19] Truman rode alongside John H. Sengstacke, who was Abbott's nephew and took over the Chicago Defender in 1948, and Mayor Richard J. Daley in the 1956 Parade.[22] Recent parades have featured popular musical acts as concert performers at the post-parade picnic. In 2006, approximately 26 million people saw the parade,[23] including 25 million television viewers and 1.2 million attendees.[5] The 2006 parade included 74,000 participants and 160 floats and vehicles.[5] The 2008 parade was dedicated to actor and comedian Bernie Mac (star of The Bernie Mac Show)[24] and a native of Chicago; he died an hour before the start of the parade. In 1993, a request by a black LGBT group to participate in the parade was declined by the organizers. Following legal action and the involvement of Lambda Legal, the Ad Hoc Committee of Proud Black Lesbians and Gays was allowed to participate in the parade the following year.[25][26] The 2020 parade, marking its 91st year, saw the first-ever cancellation, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A "scaled down" event was held in 2021.[27]


Illinois Governor Dan Walker at the 1973 parade. Photo by John H. White.

The parade has categorized contests for participants such as best float, and best marching band.[28] It takes place in Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood, starting at 35th Street [29] and Dr. Martin Luther King Drive at the southern border of the Douglas community area, south of the landmark Victory Monument. It continues south to 55th Street in Washington Park. This route covers approximately 2 miles (3.2 km). This route takes the parade through the Grand Boulevard and Washington Park community areas.[30]

Grand MarshalEdit

A notable person or persons are invited each year to serve as Grand Marshal, often featuring politicians, musicians, or entertainers. Chicago native Chance the Rapper served as the Grand Marshal for the 88th annual parade in 2017. Chicago native and singer Chaka Khan served as the Grand Marshal at the 2014 parade.[31] Rapper T.I. served as Grand Marshal for the 83rd annual parade in 2012.[32]


Bud Billiken Parade is themed every year by the parade committee. The tradition began in 1940 when the parade organizers themed the parade "Americanism" to demonstrate patriotism in the US within the African-American community.[33] Other themes over the years:


The parade has been televised for over 40 years, beginning in 1978 on WGN-TV; which broadcast the parade until 2012. WCIU-TV covered the parade beginning in 2012 after it was canceled from WGN-TV but later canceled it in 2014.[74] WLS-TV has been broadcasting the parade since 1984. The 89th Annual Parade took place on August 11, 2018.[23] BET and Centric premiered the parade on their networks in 2012.[75] On August 8, 2020, WLS-TV aired a television special for the 91st Annual Bud Billiken Parade in place of the 2020 parade which was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns.[76][77][78][79]

After Parade ActivitiesEdit

The parade begins at 10 A.M. After the parade, visitors are welcomed to stay in Washington Park for the "after-parade-activities". The "after-parade-activities" has various festivities and vendor booths.[30] The post–parade festivities often include a concert. The 2006 parade featured Yung Joc,[80] and the 2007 parade featured Pretty Ricky.[81][82] However, it seems neither "after-parade-activities" included a concert.

Notable eventsEdit

2003 concertEdit

The 2003 parade featured B2K.[19][83] The concert was free with virtually unlimited space in the park for viewing. However, the crowd became unruly causing the concert to be curtailed. Over 40 attendees were taken to hospitals as a result of injuries in the violence, including two teenagers who were shot.[84]

2007 paradeEdit

At the 78th annual parade in 2007, then–U.S. Senator Barack Obama served as the Grand Marshal for the second year in a row.[85] Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley attended, and march participants included U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, Lieutenant Governor of Illinois Pat Quinn and the Rev. Al Sharpton.[86] One float represented the Chicago 2016 Committee and included past Chicago Olympians Bob Pickens, Willie May, Diane Simpson-Bundy and Kenny Johnson as well as the son of Danell Nicholson. The Chicago Bulls' mascot made a guest appearance.[81]


The Chicago Defender Charities underwent a major restructuring in 2017. Myiti Sengstacke–Rice is Board President of the Chicago Defender Charities and Bud Billiken Parade Chair. Sengstacke–Rice is the great-grandniece of Robert Sengstacke Abbott, granddaughter of John Herman Henry Sengstacke, founder of the Chicago Defender Charities and daughter of the late famed photojournalist, Robert Abbott Sengstacke.[citation needed]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Chicago Tribune (August 11, 2017). "Bud Billiken Parade 2017 - If you go..." Chicago Tribune. Chicago Tribune.
  2. ^ Encyclopedia of African American Society, Volume 1 - Bud Billiken Day Parade - By Gerald D. Jaynes
  3. ^ Semmes, C. (April 2, 2006). The Regal Theater and Black Culture. Springer. ISBN 9781403983305.
  4. ^ Jerald Walker, "Dreams From My Father," Mother Jones, January/February 2009, p. 53
  5. ^ a b c "Bud Billiken: 78th Annual Parade and Picnic (Parade facts)". Chicago Defender Charities, Inc. 2007. Archived from the original on August 22, 2006. Retrieved July 4, 2007.
  6. ^ "Bud Billiken Parade Brings Best of Chicago Together". WGN 9 Chicago. WGN. August 12, 2017. Retrieved August 19, 2017.
  7. ^ "David Kellum, The Legendary "Bud Billiken" died in Rush". UPI. March 21, 1981. Retrieved August 19, 2017.
  8. ^ "Bud Billiken Parade History: How It All Got Started". Chicago Defender. August 5, 2008. Archived from the original on September 9, 2018. Retrieved August 19, 2017.
  9. ^ "Broadcast of The Bud Billiken Parade". ABC 7 Chicago. ABC Inc., WLS-TV Chicago. August 7, 2015. Retrieved August 19, 2017.
  10. ^ "Bud Billiken Pulls The Crowd". Chicago Defender. August 9, 2015. Archived from the original on September 9, 2018. Retrieved August 19, 2017.
  11. ^ "ABC 7 Chicago Presents Live Broadcast Of The Bud Billiken Parade". ABC Inc., WLS-TV Chicago. 2006. Retrieved August 14, 2007.
  12. ^ "Bud Billiken Parade". City of Chicago. 2007. Retrieved August 19, 2017.
  13. ^ "Historic Events/Bud Billiken Parade". Aaregistry. Archived from the original on August 16, 2017. Retrieved August 20, 2017.
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  16. ^ Scott, Eugene F. "From the Colonel". Bud Billiken Parade. Archived from the original on July 27, 2014. Retrieved August 28, 2014.
  17. ^ a b "Bud Billiken Parade". 8th Infantry Illinois National Guard Association. Retrieved July 4, 2007.
  18. ^ a b c d e f Pierre, Robert E. (August 12, 2002). "What's In A Name? More Than A Parade". The Washington Post. Jesse Jackson, Jr. for Congress. Archived from the original on September 28, 2007. Retrieved July 4, 2007.
  19. ^ a b c d "Bud Billiken: 78th Annual Parade and Picnic (Parade history)". Chicago Defender Charities, Inc. 2007. Archived from the original on September 17, 2007. Retrieved September 17, 2007.[dead link]
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  21. ^ Ganz, Cheryl (January 6, 2012). The 1933 Chicago World's Fair : a century of progress (First Illinois paperback ed.). Urbana. ISBN 978-0-252-07852-1. OCLC 870891286.
  22. ^ Johnson, Dirk (May 26, 2009). "Historical Trove, Freed From Storage, Gets a Home". The New York Times. p. A12. Retrieved September 23, 2009.
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  25. ^ Tracy Baim (September 1, 2008). Out and Proud in Chicago: An Overview of the City's Gay Community. Surrey Books. p. 188. ISBN 978-1-57284-100-0.
  26. ^ Ball, Carlos A. (2010). From the Closet to the Courtroom: Five LGBT Rights Lawsuits that Have Changed Our Nation. Boston, Mass: Beacon Press. p. 79. ISBN 9780807001530.
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  38. ^ Palladium-Item, 400,000 Negros See Chicago Parade In Honor Of Mythical Bud Billiken, August 13, 1967.Retrieved September 6, 2020.
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  40. ^ Chicago Tribune, Black 'Saint' To Celebrate Birthday, August 2, 1970.Retrieved September 6, 2020.
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  45. ^ The Lake Geneva Regional News, August 6, 1987.Retrieved September 6, 2020.
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  76. ^ Bud Billiken parade canceled for first time in 91-year history, The largest African American parade in the United States, this year’s event was set for Aug. 8. A one-hour television special will be broadcast on that date to celebrate the history and spirit of the annual tradition., By Miriam Di Nunzio and Evan F. Moore Updated Jun 29, 2020, 7:14pm CDT
  77. ^ 2020 CBS 2 Chicago, Bud Billiken Parade, A Back-To-School Tradition In Chicago, Canceled, June 30, 2020
  78. ^ URGENT, Bud Billiken Parade, a longtime Chicago tradition, canceled, Associated Press Jun 30, 2020, Updated Jul 1, 2020
  79. ^ COMMUNITY & EVENTS, ABC 7 Chicago presents Bud Billiken: Celebrating 91 years special, Mayor Lightfoot, Chance the Rapper to give celebrity shout outs, By ABC 7 Chicago Digital Team, Friday, July 31, 2020 6:53AM
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External linksEdit