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Obama Won't Grand Marshal Nation's Oldest, Largest African American Parade

By Chuck Sudo in Arts & Entertainment on Jun 28, 2012 2:15PM

Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers

Will he or won't he? That's the question now after the White House said Wednesday that President Barack Obama will not serve as Grand Marshal of this year's Bud Billiken Parade. An Obama 2012 campaign official said Wednesday:

“Due to his schedule this August, the President will not be able to attend the 2012 Bud Billiken parade, but the president will continue to be a strong supporter of the parade, and of its broader mission: placing a priority on education, supporting our children and making sure they have the skills they need to achieve their goals.”

Organizers for the Bud Billiken parade announced Monday that Obama would serve as Grand Marshal, that talks had been ongoing with the White House since last October, and that they were in discussions with federal and city officials to ensure there was a security plan in place to accommodate the president. Parade committee president Colonel Eugene Scott said at the time the White House "don't use words like confirm" and that they tried to keep plans under wraps as long as possible. Scott maintained that position in an interview with Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell.

“We have been working on this since October. It is now July. No one has said they don’t think he is coming,” he said.

Scott is the president of the Chicago Defender Charities and chairman of the parade committee. He suggested the White House was simply being coy.

“They don’t usually use such terms as ‘for sure’ or ‘it’s final.’ They use terms such as ‘it’s scheduled.’ That is about as good as it gets because of the security issue,” Scott said.

He also claimed the Secret Service “is not happy” about the president’s schedule being put out so early.”

The Bud Billiken Parade dates back to 1929 and was created by Robert Sengestacke Abbott, publisher of the Chicago Defender newspaper, as a way to celebrate Chicago's black youth, mark the end of summer and herald the beginning of a new school year. Today the parade is the oldest and largest African American parade in the country, with anywhere between 800,000 and 1.2 million people lining the streets of Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood the second Saturday in August every year to view. Over the decades public figures such as Oprah Winfrey, Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, politicians, dignitaries and celebrities have participated in the parade. Obama served as Grand Marshal of the Bud Billiken Parade twice before, first when he was an Illinois state senator and in 2007 when he announced his presidential campaign. After Obama was elected president in 2008, he sent his special adviser Valerie Jarrett in his place as Grand Marshal.

Mitchell wrote the statement from the Obama 2012 campaign seemed to indicate the White House would designate someone else to serve as Grand Marshal in place of the president. But in an election year, anything is possible and there is a chance that Obama may still be leading the parade Aug. 11.