Who’s Bud Billiken, anyway?

August is nearly upon us, and that means the Bud Billiken Parade is right around the corner.  Have you heard of this annual event and wondered what it celebrates?

Our friends at the Chicago Defender Charities made us aware of their annual gala, A Night in Bronzeville, which is coming up this Thursday, August 3.  The event raises funds for their scholarship program and will be held at the former home of the Chicago Defender Newspaper at 2400 S Michigan, which was just renovated by Revel Space as an event venue.

In addition to being a cool opportunity to see the newly renovated space in action, this event presents a timely opportunity to share some history of the Chicago Defender newspaper, the origin of “Bud Billiken”, and the Chicago Defender Charities organization that continues to keep the Bud Billiken tradition strong.

Couldn’t have said it better ourselves…..

The Chicago Defender Charities website includes a very informative summary of the history of the “Bud Billiken” name, and the origin and purpose of the annual Bud Billiken® parade, which is coming up on August 12 in Bronzeville.  The below excerpt is from the “history” page on their website, which we think provides an excellent summary for those unfamiliar:



     “The Bud Billiken® Parade was founded by Robert Sengstacke Abbott on August 11, 1929.  Today, the 88 year tradition is the second largest parade in the United States next to the Rose Bowl.  Abbott’s mission for the betterment of Chicago’s youth, education, and to sound the clarion call for “Back to School” for our youth continues through the leadership of his great-grandniece and Chicago Defender Charities, President, Myiti Sengstacke-Rice.

 “The Bud Billiken® parade is unique in that it is both historic and filled with the currency of youthful enthusiasm. The parade has inspired generations nationwide and continues to uplift our community. We are so grateful for the opportunity to preserve such a rich history and gladly accept the challenge to develop relevant and purposeful services for the future,” says Rice.

The Chicago Defender Charities produces the Bud Billiken parade and was founded in 1945 by Rice’s grandfather, the late John H.H. Sengstacke. Nephew and successor of Mr. Abbott, Sengstacke was also owner and publisher of the Chicago Defender newspaper from 1940 until his passing in 1997.

In 1921, Mr. Abbott launched Bud Billiken Jr., a section for children in the newspaper.  The section was named after the Billiken, touted to be a Chinese mythical character. Legend has it that the Billiken is the guardian angel of children around the world. Mr. Abbott’s famed editor, David Kellum was a key member of the Bud Billiken® team and was often called Mr. Bud Billiken® for many years. He had the idea for a ‘Bud Billiken Day’ with the mission to “give underprivileged children who are never seen or heard a chance to be in the limelight for one day by wearing costumes marching in the parade and being seen,” said Kellum in the biography about Mr. Abbott entitled The Lonely Warrior by Roi Ottley.

In 1929, Mr. Abbott expanded the Bud Billiken® concept to include a parade. The first parade began with the goal to honor the hard work and dedication of the newsboys.  Mr. Abbott then created the newsboys band which included musical greats such as Nat King Cole and Lionel Hampton. Hundreds of thousands have lined the parade route with millions viewing festivities on live television. Today, the parade features dozens of bands, drill teams, marching units, floats and more.

Many notable celebrities have appeared in the Bud Billiken® Parade throughout the years, including Senator Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, L.L. Cool J, Spike Lee, Michael Jordan, Frank Thomas, Donny Osmond, Queen Latifah, and Tyler Perry just to name a few.  The parade was also honored to have the presence of historic greats such as Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Lionel Hampton, Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, The Supremes, Roy Rogers, Lena Horne and former President Harry S. Truman.

The parade takes place in historic Bronzeville annually on the second Saturday in August and proceeds south on Dr. Martin Luther King Drive from Oakwood Boulevard to 51st Street and continues on Ellsworth Drive through Washington Park to 55th Street where it disbands and is followed by the ‘After Parade’ activities. It is broadcast live on ABC7 Chicago with festivities and other events in the park throughout the day. The 2017 Bud Billiken® is honored to have Chance the Rapper as the Grand Marshall and the parade will begin at 10am.”

Learn more:

If you’re interested in learning more about the Chicago Defender, we found these articles to be particularly interesting:

Early history

The Defender’s role in the Great Migration (this year marks the 100-year anniversary)

Information on the 2400 S Michigan location and the Defender’s role in the integration of the US Military in the 1940’s

About the GSLA:

The Greater South Loop Association (GSLA) is a 501c3 non-profit organization founded in 1998. Our mission is to bring neighbors together to maintain and improve the South Loop as a vibrant, diverse, and inclusive community.