CHICAGO (USA Today) — While it wasn’t by design, there was a bit of symbolism in Sen. Dick Durbin speaking out in the nation’s third-largest city about President Trump allegedly using vulgar language to describe Haiti and African countries.
Durbin, a Democrat from Downstate Illinois, happened to be in Chicago for a Martin Luther King Jr. celebration on Friday when he confirmed to reporters that Trump during an Oval Office meeting with lawmakers crudely described Haiti and African nations as “shithole countries,” the type of places that the U.S. didn’t need any more immigrants from.
Chicago’s first non-Indian settler was Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, a black man who was born in Haiti. Many high-profile Chicagoans, including the city’s mayor and the leader of the Archdiocese of Chicago, have gone out of their way to note this city’s ties to the Haitian immigrant in the aftermath of Trump’s alleged comments.
"Grateful for Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable, “Founder of Chicago” — and Haitian immigrant," Cardinal Blase Cupich wrote on Twitter. "We are a nation of immigrants, who have made America great. We continue to be enriched by the gifts they bring to our shores.”
Grateful for Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable, “Founder of Chicago”—and Haitian immigrant. We are a nation of immigrants, who have made America great. We continue to be enriched by the gifts they bring to our shores.— Cardinal Cupich (@CardinalBCupich) January 12, 2018
Du Sable, whose father was a French mariner and mother was a slave of African descent, sailed to New Orleans in the early 1770s. He eventually made his way up the Mississippi River to Peoria, Ill., where he married a Potawatomi woman before eventually continuing north.
He settled along the northern bank of the Chicago River near Lake Michigan, where he built a successful trading post and farm.
Du Sable later moved back to Peoria and would die in St. Charles, Mo., but the city proudly boasts of the immigrant’s imprint on what would become one of the nation’s most important economic and cultural hubs.
In fact, a bronze bust of du Sable sits near the Chicago River in the city’s Magnificent Mile shopping and business district and not far from the Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago.
Born in the “shithole”the rest of us call HAITI! pic.twitter.com/3LOC3Lh0lu— Bishop Talbert Swan (@TalbertSwan) January 13, 2018
Haiti stood with the U.S. in the Revolutionary War. Haitian immigrant Jean Baptiste Point du Sable is considered the first non-indigenous permanent resident of Chicago. The only hole I see here is in some people's knowledge and memory. pic.twitter.com/rt9jPHoDtX— Maureen O'Donnell (@suntimesobits) January 12, 2018
His soaring tower notwithstanding Trump has not spoken kindly of the Midwest's largest city since becoming president.
The president has compared Chicago to a “war-torn” country and framed the city as the poster child for urban violence and dysfunction. The city has tallied more than 1,400 murders since 2016; the bulk of violent crime has occurred in a few low-income, African-American neighborhoods.
Chicago and the city’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, have been in the thick of the fight between Democrats and the Trump administration as the president pushes to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump has vowed to withhold federal public safety funds from cities that limit local law enforcement involvement with federal authorities on immigration matters.
In September , Emanuel’s administration won a nationwide injunction in federal court preventing Trump from withholding public safety funding from sanctuary cities.
Emanuel, who served as President Obama’s chief of staff, took aim at Trump again on Friday, noting Chicago was “founded by an immigrant from Haiti” who saw great “possibility” on the confluence of the Chicago River and Lake Michigan.
Veteran Chicago journalist Maureen O'Donnell noted Haiti stood by the United States founders during the Revolutionary War.
"Haitian immigrant Jean Baptiste Point du Sable is considered the first non-indigenous permanent resident of Chicago," O'Donnell noted on Twitter. "The only hole I see here is in some people's knowledge and memory."
Follow USA TODAY's Aamer Madhani on Twitter: @AamerISmad