“Rare Jewel” Color Footage Of 1948 Bud Billiken Parade Rediscovered
Written by Ayana Contreras on August 8, 2023
75 year old film recently unearthed by the South Side Home Movie Project showcases the timeless beauty of the uniquely-Black Chicago end-of-summer ritual, held annually since 1929.
In the 1940s, color film was expensive and the stock itself, when compared with black and white film, was comparatively complicated to process.
In addition, Kodachrome’s pigments are somewhat volatile and subject to fading. Thus, such footage is such remarkable condition is exceptionally rare, and especially scarce is footage centering Black Americans.
South Side Home Movie Project project manager and archivist Justin D. Williams classified the footage as a “rare jewel”. He recently clarified to Vocalo, “It’s in dazzling Kodachrome color and looks almost like it hasn’t aged a day. It features many Chicago historical figures including Joe Louis (serving as grand marshall), [Chicago Defender publisher] John Sengstacke, [then] Chicago Mayor Kelley, and David Kellum [a Defender editor and the creator of the Bud Billiken character).”
The footage was filmed by Ramon Williams, who was “a Black IBEW electrician and film hobbyist” according to a South Side Home Movies Project Ramon Williams profile on their website. The Ramon Williams Collection is one of dozens of collections in the possession of the SSHMP.
The South Side Home Movie Project was founded by Dr. Jacqueline Stewart in 2005 to collect, preserve, digitize, exhibit and research small-gauge home movies made by residents of Chicago’s South Side neighborhoods.
Justin D. Williams went on to address the story behind the 75 year old footage. “I have researched the reel for the past year in attempts to contextualize the footage better historically. Apparently, it was the first time Bud Billiken [Day] was declared a municipal and state holiday!! The parade was live radio broadcasted (hosted by the pioneering black DJ Jack L. Cooper).”
RELATED: Bud Billiken Parade 2023: Audio Postcard
The 1948 parade was historic for other reasons according to Williams’s research. It was also “the first time attendance peaked over 500,000” and the festivities occured in the weeks after Truman desegregated the Armed Services. The footage boasts shots of police and U.S. military being led by Black officers.
Williams is excited to dig in to the remaining footage: so far in the Ramon Williams collection, they have identified footage of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie’s 1954 arrival in Chicago among other footage. The collection contains a total of 161 films, and is still in the process of being digitized.
Experience the footage below:
For more information on the film, or the ongoing South Side Home Movie Project, they can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Ayana Contreras
Primary Research by Justin D. Williams
Film Stills by Justin D. Williams