Pilgrim Baptist Church and Kehilath Anshe Ma’ariv Synagogue

Andi Marie 11 comments

Andi Marie/Chicago Patterns

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.

Photograph by Richard Nickel, image courtesy of School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Photograph by Richard Nickel, image courtesy of School of the Art Institute of 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.

Photograph by Richard Nickel, image courtesy of School of the Art Institute of Chicago

The massive structure commanded attention as it stood on the corner of 33rd and Indiana. Photograph by Richard Nickel, image courtesy of School of the Art Institute of Chicago

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.

Jewish Virtual Library

In 1922, K.A.M. moved from Bronzeville to Kenwood.

Pilgrim in 1941 by Russell Lee

Pilgrim Baptist on Easter Sunday in 1941, photograph by Russell Lee

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.

Photo from Jack Johnson's funeral at Pilgrim Baptist Church, from 1984 issue of Ebony magazine

Photo from Jack Johnson’s funeral at Pilgrim Baptist Church, from 1994 issue of Ebony magazine

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.

Pilgrim Baptist today. John Morris/Chicago Patterns

Pilgrim Baptist today. John Morris/Chicago Patterns

The Fire

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.

John Morris/Chicago Patterns

John Morris/Chicago Patterns

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.

Andi Marie/Chicago Patterns

Andi Marie/Chicago Patterns

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.

Interior photo, courtesy of School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Interior photo, courtesy of School of the Art Institute of Chicago

It’s hard to imagine what it may have looked like back in 1890, standing tall among a newly developing area.

Rendering of how the rebuilt Pilgrim Baptist would look

Rendering of how the rebuilt Pilgrim Baptist would look

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:



11 responses to “Pilgrim Baptist Church and Kehilath Anshe Ma’ariv Synagogue”

  1. David Daruszka says:

    “Ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich provoked controversy in 2006 when he promised to give a $1 million state grant to the historic Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago after a major fire. A politically connected private school housed at the church ended up getting the money, and Blagojevich’s attempt to spend more state money on the church’s office was held up by a lawsuit.” From the Chicago Tribune

  2. Great Piece. Beautiful & Vivid Photos. Historical Facts; Well Researched. Professionalism Worthy Of Admiration. I Am A Native Southsider & Am Proud Of This Projection Of It. Good Job Chicago Patterns, Andi Marie & John Morris! Damn Good Work.
    – CE

  3. Abena says:

    Love the story and images. Great work. Looking forward to more. My grandmother went to that church and knew Mahalia Jackson.

  4. Allison says:

    I absolutely love your photography & reading your articles on Chicago Patterns! You’ve got an amazing eye for stunning photos & I love the historical background/ interpretation that you give with each article. I look forward to more breathtaking photos and historical tidbits! Keep up the good work!

  5. Teneil says:

    The photo of the inscription on the church is absolutely breathtaking. It reminds me that although the building is incomplete the message from a higher power & those that believe is still very much intact. Thank you so much for capturing this for all of us to see!

    • Andi Marie Andi Marie says:

      Teneil, I thought the same thing when I was there reading it. Such powerful heart tugging words.
      There is still a campaign to restore and rebuild Pilgrim Baptist Church.

      Thank you again for your kind words! Made my day. :D

  6. Janeen says:

    The photos are simply amazing!!!! Such detail. I’ve seen the church plenty of times, but what you capture in the photographer is breathtaking!!!!!

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