In honor of Nelson Mandela, whose death last week inspired worldwide tributes and retrospectives, Oak Park state Rep. LaShawn Ford (8th) is proposing a permanent renaming of Cicero Avenue in honor of the former South African president.
Ford believes that the Nobel Prize winner deserves the honor of having his own street on the West Side, and not just an honorary renaming usually accustomed for such figures.
Noted historical figures have traditionally been recognized on Chicago streets or crosswalks with the honorary brown street sign. Ford, however, insists that Mandela is too important a figure to remember in just that way.
"He made such an enormous impact on the world at large, that an honorary street just would not do him justice," Ford said.
Chicago has more than 1500 honorary streets, named after notable figures from athletes to politicians to community leaders. Streets also honor locations, such as the Magnificent Mile. In neighboring Austin, honorary streets have been named for living and deceased community leaders.
Cicero Avenue — like the south suburban town that shares the name — is named after the Roman leader, Marcus Tullius Cicero. The avenue, also known as Skokie Boulevard, is one of the city's and suburbs' major north-south streets, which carries Illinois Route 50 from its south end to Skokie.
Ford plans to have a bill written up this week with the name-change and will present it to fellow House lawmakers in the next session on Jan. 29.
"Naming a street after President Mandela would be a reminder to Chicagoans about the importance of his vision and what he meant to international community," Ford said. "You cannot do that with a mere street dedication."
Ford would need majority support in the House and Senate. Once approved, it goes to Gov. Pat Quinn for his signature. A joint resolution in the General Assembly could also result in a street name change. In either option, the Illinois House and Senate would have to sign off on it.
Ford has set up a petition at Moveon.org asking for signatures in support of his proposal. The lawmaker says he's already secured more than 550 signatures, as well as verbal support from the Illinois House Legislative Black Caucus.
Cicero Avenue derived its name from the Roman philosopher and statesman who was born in 106 B.C. The town of Cicero was first incorporated in Illinois in 1869. This would not be the first time that the street has undergone a name change. It was originally referred to as 48th Avenue, in reference to its City of Chicago address of 4800 West.
When asked whether the Roman leader deserved to lose his street dedication, Ford says his proposal will honor each man equally.
"There will still be a village of Cicero. That would not change," Ford said. "I am only talking about changing the name on the street. If the change happens, both Cicero and Mandela will actually intersect. I want to honor president Mandela while also being respectful of the legacy of Marcus Cicero as well."