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Chicagoans Will Protest Controversial Balbo Monument & Balbo Drive On Wednesday

By Stephen Gossett in News on Aug 22, 2017 8:55PM

Balbo Monument / Flickr / Photo: rchdj10

A protest is scheduled for Wednesday night to calling for the removal of the Balbo Monument and the renaming of Balbo Drive. Both have become focal points in a local version of the national conversation over whether to remove memorials to and/or from objectionable governments.

A movement to remove the monument and rename the drive reemerged in the wake of Charlottesville and has since gathered momentum from activists and aldermen. The monument was gifted to the city in 1933 by Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and honors Italo Balbo—an Italian Air Force Marshal and Fascist organizer who helped bring Mussolini to power—and his transatlantic flight to Chicago, for the Century of Progress World's Fair. The monument features a 2,000-year-old Roman-pillar antiquity atop a stone base. In 1933, 7th Street was also renamed as Balbo Drive.

A weathered inscription on the monument reads: "Fascist Italy, by command of Benito Mussolini presents to Chicago exaltation symbol memorial of the Atlantic Squadron led by Balbo that with Roman daring, flew across the ocean in the 11th year of the Fascist era."

The protest calls for Balbo Monument—which stands in Burnham Park, not far from Soldier Field—to be removed and for Balbo Drive to be rechristened "Ida B. Wells Way," in honor of the suffragist icon and early Civil Rights leader. A petition calling for "Ida B. Wells Way" was introduced last week and has gathered more than 1,500 signatures. Aislinn Sol, a Black Lives Lives Matter-Chicago activist who helped launch the petition, told Chicagoist last week that she'd like to see the monument placed in a museum.

Ald. Gilbert Villegas (Ward 36) and Ald. Ed Burke (14th) are among the aldermen working on an official push to remove the monument and rename the roadway.

There have been various attempts throughout the decades to nix the honorary designations, including a 1946 effort that was well outlined in a 2008 Chicago magazine piece. Some Italian-American preservationists—many of them older—who stress that Balbo's flight was a point of pride in the community remain opposed to the anti-Balbo push, John Greenfield reports in the Chicago Reader. Chicago Park District spokeswoman Jessica Maxey-Faulkner reportedly said officials expect to meet with aldermen soon to discuss the matter.

The protest, which was launched by activist group Answer Chicago, is scheduled to take place Wednesday Aug. 23, at 6:00 p.m.