When the 83rd
But at its roots, it's a parade, and kids love a parade.
Chicago Defender founder
Even as it was becoming a can't-miss part of the summer for families, it developed into a can't-miss appointment for politicians who wanted to join the fun — and court the black vote. In 1940, Chicago "Mayor (Edward) Kelly and other civic leaders" gave speeches. In 1956, former President Harry Truman joined Mayor Richard J. Daley and Chicago Defender publisher John Sengstacke at the head of the parade.
But despite seeing a president, plenty of U.S. senators and a flock of governors over the years, parade-goers in 1983 were truly star-struck. That year, the parade was led by Harold Washington, the city's first black mayor.
"I touched him," 12-year-old Paula Johnson was quoted as saying in the Tribune. For longtime parade director Marjorie Joyner, that year's parade "was the best yet" because Washington was there.
Bud Billiken also boasted a number of heavy-hitting celebrities and civic leaders, including boxing champions Floyd Patterson,
But each year, two youngsters got to rule over them all. They were the parade's king and queen. In 1983, that honor went to Alvin Jefferson, then 11, who sold the most Defender subscriptions to earn the crown — and a free trip to
Jefferson, who now lives in Des Moines, said the whole experience changed the way he thought about himself and what he could do with his life. "It was definitely one of those experiences that you remember," he said.