The 2019 Bughouse Square Debates | Newberry

The 2019 Bughouse Square Debates

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Noon to 4 pm

Washington Square Park (aka Bughouse Square), 901 North Clark Street, across Walton from the Newberry

Free and open to the public; no registration or tickets required
Open to the Public

At a time when political polarization is intensified by the extremes of digital discourse, the Bughouse Square Debates are a public forum where people can encounter new ideas and share their own—in person!

Join the Newberry for Chicago’s favorite free speech event! Bring your loudest heckling voice, mount the open soapbox, and exercise your First Amendment rights. Take it to the park this summer! And don’t miss the Newberry Book Fair before and/or after the Debates!

Propose a Soapbox Speech!

In this friendly free-speech competition, orators mount soapboxes and take about 10 minutes each to have their say about racism, First Amendment issues, civil liberties, #MeToo, #BLM, pop culture – or any other burning concern. The champion soapboxer receives the Dill Pickle Award

We encourage proposals from agitators of all ages.

Submit your idea using this online form.


Noon: Music by Environmental Encroachment

1 pm: Welcome and Introduction to Bughouse Square

1:10 pm: Presentation of the 2018 John Peter Altgeld Freedom of Speech Award

  • To be awarded to Derrick Blakley, longtime broadcast and print journalist, recently retired from CBS 2 Chicago.

1:35 pm: Mainstage Presentation/Discussion: The Legacies of 1919

2:30 pm: Soapbox Speeches

  • Soapboxes 1 and 2: Invited speeches.
  • Soapbox 3: Open microphone speeches, curated by the Society of Smallness. Come one, come all!
  • Soapbox 4: Youth soapbox, organized by students from the GCE Lab School.

3:45 pm: Dill Pickle Awarded to the Soapbox Champion

Food Trucks​

  • Beaver’s Coffee + Donuts
  • Gobble Doggs

Information Tables

  • About two dozen local organizations and causes will set up information tables in the park, with volunteers to answer your questions. Would your organization like to be represented? Write to or call 312-255-3610.

Chicago 1919

This year’s Main Presentation is part of Chicago 1919: Confronting the Race Riots, a year-long initiative funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, engaging in public conversations about the legacy of the most violent week in Chicago history, organized by the Newberry Library and 13 other Chicago institutions. Chicago’s 1919 race riots barely register in the city’s current consciousness, yet they were a significant turning point in shaping the racial divides we see today. Chicago 1919 is guided by the belief that the 1919 race riots can serve as a lens for understanding Chicago today. Racial tensions related to policing, migration, and housing all came to a head in 1919. By reflecting on the past 100 years, Chicagoans may see how our current racial divisions evolved from the race riots, as the marginalization of African Americans in Chicago became institutionalized through increasingly sophisticated forms of discrimination. People across Chicago are invited to share in our collective reckoning with a little-known yet tremendously consequential chapter in the city’s history.

Chicago 1919: Confronting the Race Riots has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in these programs do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Our Youth Engagement Sponsor is Allstate. The project is made possible in part by the generous support of Edith Rasmussen Ahern and Patrick Ahern.

Learn more about the history of Bughouse Square.

The Bughouse Square Debates are supported by a grant from the Chicago Free for All Fund at the Chicago Community Trust.

Your generosity is vital in keeping the library’s programs, exhibitions, and reading rooms free and accessible to everyone. Make a donation today.

Cost and Registration Information 

Free and open to the public; no registration or tickets required.