Bob Pickens

Bob Pickens

The Chicago Park District (CPD) is considering naming the new Jackson Park track and field after Bob Pickens, a pioneering Black Olympic wrestler and former CPD commissioner. 

During its July 16 meeting, CPD’s Board of Commissioners unanimously voted to begin a 45-day public comment period, after which the board will vote on the naming. 

Pickens (1943-2018), was born in Chicago, raised in Evanston and resided for much of his adult life in South Shore. For a decade, beginning in 2000, he was a CPD Board Commissioner. He was known as an indefatigable advocate for parks and recreational programming for inner-city youth.

Pickens represented the United States as a heavy-weight Greco-Roman wrestler during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, becoming one of first three African Americans to represent the nation in the sport during a Summer Olympics games and the first African American to actually wrestle during a match. He placed sixth.

After the Olympics, he attended the University of Nebraska, where he was named an All-Big 8 offensive tackle. He was drafted by the Chicago Bears in 1967 and played offensive tackle until 1969. 

Speaking during the meeting, Pickens’ daughter, Tori Pickens, said, “I think it’s such an honor to even have this as a consideration to name a track and field after my father.”

“He had such an affinity for parks, especially on the east side of Chicago. He just wanted to make sure that they were just as beautiful and manicured as any other parks in the City. And, in particular, Jackson Park. That was a place where his grandson often practiced football with the Wolfpack.

“It’s also an area where we often picnicked and had family gatherings and I think that he just would be very happy to see that there is something there to honor his legacy.”  

As she introduced the authorization, Park District Planning and Development Director Heather Gleason said of Pickens, he was “a strong advocate for a number of causes such as the inclusion of Minority and Women owned firms in the district’s procurement of goods and services.”

Gleason added, “He also pushed for the design of accessible playgrounds to serve all children of the Chicago area equally.” 

The new track and field facility was paid for with a $3.5 million donation from the Obama Foundation.  

To see the official public notification and to learn how to comment on the proposed naming of the park visit:

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