In order to learn about this landmark, we must first look back at the beginning of Kehilath Anshe Ma’ariv (K.A.M.). Founded in 1847, Congregation of the Men of the West K.A.M. Isaiah Israel is the oldest Jewish Congregation in Chicago.
In 1890 Dankmar Adler & Louis Sullivan built K.A.M.
Isaiah Temple at 3301 S. Indiana. The draftsman who prepared the drawings for this structure was a young Frank Lloyd Wright.
Adler Family Connection
Dankmar Adler was a member of K.A.M. and his father Liebman Adler was the Rabbi of what was a large congregation. Involvement in synagogue brought the Adlers to Chicago:
After Liebman Adler was named rabbi of Kehilath Anshe Ma’ariv Synagogue in Chicago in May 1861, the Adlers moved there. Dankmar Adler started to look for an architect’s job but this was cut short in July 1862, when he enlisted in Company M, First Regiment, of the Illinois Light Artillery to fight in the Civil War. He was involved in many battles from 1862 through 1864 and was also wounded.
In 1922, K.A.M. moved from Bronzeville to Kenwood.
That same year Pilgrim Baptist Church moved into the vacant structure.
Under the direction of Thomas Dorsey, in a short time this church would become the birthplace of Gospel Music. Aretha Franklin, Reverend James Cleveland, Edwin Hawkins, Mahalia Jackson, Albertina Walker and The Staple Singers all came here to sing.
A safe haven for African Americans migrating from the South to Chicago, Pilgrim Baptist was a pillar of hope for the community. Dr. Martin Luther King gave numerous sermons right here during the Civil Rights Movement.
Pilgrim also hosted the funeral of legendary heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson. After suffering in a car crash and later dying in a hospital in Raleigh, he was remembered at Pilgrim Baptist. He is now buried at Graceland Cemetery.
On Jan 6, 2006 there was a fire that destroyed much of the church. Roofers were doing repair work when a fire broke out. Many historical records and murals inside the church which were lost that day.
Today, there is a fence that surrounds the remaining three walls, and two of the sides are reinforced. There is no roof or back to this structure.
Open for me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them to praise the Lord
The words that remain over the front entrance still speak volumes.
It’s hard to imagine what it may have looked like back in 1890, standing tall among a newly developing area.
There seemed to be movement in 2011, when church leaders announced that they were going to begin the first phase of reconstruction. Unfortunately, the effort has not yet started, though there is an ongoing campaign to rebuild this historic landmark.
The congregation is still working to raise resources and rebuild this historic landmark.
References and further reading:
- The Music of Pilgrim Baptist Church (npr)
- Pilgrim Baptist Church – A Photo Tribute
- Pilgrim Baptist to be born again (Chicago Tribune)