Attorney resurrects pro-Chief billboard in light of 'critical conversation'

Attorney resurrects pro-Chief billboard in light of 'critical conversation'

CHAMPAIGN — A familiar pro-Chief billboard has cropped up in Champaign after a 10-year hiatus.

Attorney John Gadau, a staunch Chief advocate, said he decided to resurrect the billboard he initially posted across Champaign around the time of the Chief's departure in 2007 because of the recent "critical conversation," which is designed to help the University of Illinois move beyond the controversy.

Gadau called that effort a "waste of time and money."

"The people who are pro-Chief that talk to the university and think they can reach some reasonable accord with them just were born yesterday. It ain't gonna happen," Gadau said.

The billboard, a vinyl sign that reads, "The Chief, yesterday, today, forever," is a copy of the 53,000 bumper stickers Gadau printed up years ago.

It was put up last month, on a billboard on Springfield Avenue just west of First Street.

To longtime Chief opponent Stephen Kaufman, the phrase was reminiscent of a troubling slogan from the past — "Segregation Now, Segregation Tomorrow, Segregation Forever," from the 1963 inaugural address of former Alabama Gov. George Wallace. The phrase has been attributed to Wallace's speech writer, Asa Earl Carter, "a former radio announcer and Ku Klux Klan member," Kaufman noted.

Kaufman told UI Chancellor Robert Jones in a letter that the recent visit by two trustees to the Peoria Tribe in Oklahoma to discuss a "middle way" forward on the Chief issue, as well as the chancellor's critical conversation, "have emboldened actions to reinstate Illiniwek, in spite of your public statements."

"It is with appreciation that I acknowledge you have tried to limit the use of symbols associated with Illiniwek. But the most meaningful actions you can currently take to end this truly sad and harmful chapter in UIUC history is to move without further delay to establish a new mascot, and have the Marching Illini prepare for a new season that does not include any reference to the Illiniwek tradition," he wrote.

Gadau said he had no idea that the phrase had any ties to the Klan.

"That's just balderdash," he said. "With all the people we've got on Earth, it's hard to find a good phrase or a bad phrase that's original. It's a free country, but I did not know that."

"I'm not a Klansman," he said, noting that he attends an African-American church because he enjoys the pastor's sermons. "I like his preaching. I don't think Klansmen are going to go to an African-American church."

Gadau also put up billboards in 2004 calling for former Chancellor Nancy Cantor to be fired because of her suspected opposition to the Chief.

The attorney said he was approached this spring by someone who leases the billboard on Springfield Avenue and knew about Gadau's pro-Chief stance. Gadau said he can use the space for a year.

"If nobody likes it, that's fine," he said. "If everybody likes it, that's fine. But it's my billboard, politically correct or not."

Campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler declined to comment on the billboard, but added, "The chancellor is laser-focused on bringing as many people of good will together as possible to find a path forward together."

Based on the response during the initial critical conversation and follow-up events, including with alumni, "I think we all feel pretty optimistic that if we can keep people talking to each other and listening to each other, we can find a path forward," she said.