HISTORY OF THE CHICAGO DEFENDER CHARITIES
BUD BILLIKEN™ PARADE
The Bud Billiken™ Parade was founded by Robert Sengstacke Abbott on August 11, 1929. Today, the 8 decade tradition is the one of largest and longest running parades in the United States. 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 late business woman, Dr. Marjorie Stewart Joyner was the protégé of Madam C.J. Walker and inventor of several hair care products. Joyner led the Bud Billiken® Parade from the 1930s to the '80s and served as the Chicago Defender Charities President for many years. The Charities and parade continued under the leadership of Publisher, John H.H. Sengstacke until his passing in 1997, and was proceeded by the late, Frederick D. Sengstacke (former Chicago Defender Publisher), who passed in 2009. Retired U.S. Army Col. Eugene F. Scott (former Chicago Defender Publisher), was President of the Charities until February 2016. Marcus T. Alexander Ed.D. was President of the Charities until February, 2017.
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™ was honored to have Chance the Rapper as the Grand Marshall and the parade will begin at 10am.