Pilgrim Baptist Church

Pilgrim Baptist Church

Ask a question about 'Pilgrim Baptist Church'
Start a new discussion about 'Pilgrim Baptist Church'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
Pilgrim Baptist Church is an historic church located on the south side of Chicago, Illinois, USA. The landmarked building was originally constructed for a synagogue, K.A.M. Isaiah Israel Temple
K.A.M. Isaiah Israel Temple
KAM Isaiah Israel is the oldest Jewish congregation in Chicago, with its oldest core founded in 1847 as Kehilath Anshe Ma'arav ....

. The church is notable both as an architectural landmark and for the cultural contributions by the congregation of the church. Located at 3301 S. Indiana Ave, the church was in the heart of Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood.


The building was designed as a synagogue
A synagogue is a Jewish house of prayer. This use of the Greek term synagogue originates in the Septuagint where it sometimes translates the Hebrew word for assembly, kahal...

 by Chicago architects Louis Sullivan
Louis Sullivan
Louis Henri Sullivan was an American architect, and has been called the "father of skyscrapers" and "father of modernism" He is considered by many as the creator of the modern skyscraper, was an influential architect and critic of the Chicago School, was a mentor to Frank Lloyd Wright, and an...

 and Dankmar Adler
Dankmar Adler
Dankmar Adler was a celebrated German-born American architect.-Early years:...

, and built in 1890 and 1891. Originally, the structure was the home of Kehilath Anshe Ma'ariv http://www.kamii.org/, an important congregation in the development of Reform Judaism
Reform Judaism
Reform Judaism refers to various beliefs, practices and organizations associated with the Reform Jewish movement in North America, the United Kingdom and elsewhere. In general, it maintains that Judaism and Jewish traditions should be modernized and should be compatible with participation in the...

; Adler was a member, and his father was a rabbi
In Judaism, a rabbi is a teacher of Torah. This title derives from the Hebrew word רבי , meaning "My Master" , which is the way a student would address a master of Torah...

. That congregation continues as K.A.M. Isaiah Israel Temple
K.A.M. Isaiah Israel Temple
KAM Isaiah Israel is the oldest Jewish congregation in Chicago, with its oldest core founded in 1847 as Kehilath Anshe Ma'arav ....


A Baptist
Baptists comprise a group of Christian denominations and churches that subscribe to a doctrine that baptism should be performed only for professing believers , and that it must be done by immersion...

 congregation moved into the building in 1922, forming Pilgrim Baptist Church.

The church is credited as the birthplace of gospel music
Gospel music
Gospel music is music that is written to express either personal, spiritual or a communal belief regarding Christian life, as well as to give a Christian alternative to mainstream secular music....

 in the 1930s. Thomas A. Dorsey
Thomas A. Dorsey
Thomas Andrew Dorsey was known as "the father of black gospel music" and was at one time so closely associated with the field that songs written in the new style were sometimes known as "dorseys." Earlier in his life he was a leading blues pianist known as Georgia Tom.As formulated by Dorsey,...

, the "Father of Gospel Music", was the music director at Pilgrim Baptist for decades. Albertina Walker
Albertina Walker
-Early years:Walker was born in Chicago, Illinois, to Ruben and Camille Coleman Walker. Her mother was born in Houston County, Georgia, and her father in Bibb County, Georgia. They moved to Chicago between 1917-1920 where they lived out their lives. Albertina had four siblings born in Bibb County...

, Mahalia Jackson
Mahalia Jackson
Mahalia Jackson – January 27, 1972) was an African-American gospel singer. Possessing a powerful contralto voice, she was referred to as "The Queen of Gospel"...

, Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin
Aretha Louise Franklin is an American singer, songwriter, and pianist. Although known for her soul recordings and referred to as The Queen of Soul, Franklin is also adept at jazz, blues, R&B, gospel music, and rock. Rolling Stone magazine ranked her atop its list of The Greatest Singers of All...

, Sallie Martin
Sallie Martin
Sallie Martin was a gospel singer nicknamed "the mother of gospel music" for her efforts to popularize the songs of Thomas A. Dorsey and her influence on other artists. Raised as a Baptist in Pittfield, Georgia, she joined the Pentecostal movement as a young woman...

, James Cleveland
James Cleveland
The Reverend Dr. James Cleveland was a gospel singer, arranger, composer and, most significantly, the driving force behind the creation of the modern gospel sound, bringing the stylistic daring of hard gospel and jazz and pop music influences to arrangements for mass choirs...

, The Staples Singers, and The Edwin Hawkins
Edwin Hawkins
Edwin Hawkins is a Grammy Award-winning American gospel and R&B musician, pianist, choir master, composer and arranger. He is one of the originators of the urban contemporary gospel sound. He are best known for his arrangement of "Oh Happy Day" , which was included on the Songs of the Century list...

 Singers are among those who have sung at the church.

Famous members of the congregation include Bessie Coleman
Bessie Coleman
Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman was an American civil aviator. She was the first female pilot of African American descent and the first person of African American descent to hold an international pilot license.-Early life:...

. The church also hosted the funeral
A funeral is a ceremony for celebrating, sanctifying, or remembering the life of a person who has died. Funerary customs comprise the complex of beliefs and practices used by a culture to remember the dead, from interment itself, to various monuments, prayers, and rituals undertaken in their honor...

 service of boxer
Boxing, also called pugilism, is a combat sport in which two people fight each other using their fists. Boxing is supervised by a referee over a series of between one to three minute intervals called rounds...

 Jack Johnson
Jack Johnson (boxer)
John Arthur Johnson , nicknamed the “Galveston Giant,” was an American boxer. At the height of the Jim Crow era, Johnson became the first African American world heavyweight boxing champion...

 in 1946, and was prominent in the Civil Rights Movement
African-American Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968)
The African-American Civil Rights Movement refers to the movements in the United States aimed at outlawing racial discrimination against African Americans and restoring voting rights to them. This article covers the phase of the movement between 1955 and 1968, particularly in the South...

. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered sermons at the church during the height of the movement.

In 1973, the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places
National Register of Historic Places
The National Register of Historic Places is the United States government's official list of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects deemed worthy of preservation...

, and the building was designated a Chicago Landmark
Chicago Landmark
Chicago Landmark is a designation of the Mayor of Chicago and the Chicago City Council for historic buildings and other sites in Chicago, Illinois, United States. Listed sites are selected after meeting a combination of criteria, including historical, economic, architectural, artistic, cultural,...

 in 1981.
It housed a large series of murals painted by the African-American painter William E. Scott between 1936 and 1937. Pilgrim's charismatic and forward-thinking pastor Junius C. Austin hired both Scott and Dorsey in the 1930s to increase the church's appeal making it one of the largest churches in the country in just a few years.


On January 6, 2006, a fire broke out and it was able to spread and gut the building. Investigators concluded that the fire was started accidentally by workers performing roof repairs during a $500,000 restoration. The roofers were fitting metal coping
Coping (architecture)
Coping , consists of the capping or covering of a wall.A splayed or wedge coping slopes in a single direction; a saddle coping slopes to either side of a central high point....

, which is sealed with a blowtorch. Consumed in the fire were decades of historical records, along with boxes full of Dorsey's original sheet music
Sheet music
Sheet music is a hand-written or printed form of music notation that uses modern musical symbols; like its analogs—books, pamphlets, etc.—the medium of sheet music typically is paper , although the access to musical notation in recent years includes also presentation on computer screens...

. An elementary school across the street had to be evacuated, and the nearby Illinois College of Optometry
Illinois College of Optometry
The Illinois College of Optometry is a 4-year private optometry college located in the city of Chicago, Illinois. Graduating approximately 160 optometrists a year, it is the largest optometry college in the United States and is the oldest continually operating educational facility dedicated solely...

 building had windows destroyed by the high temperatures of the fire. Cars parked alongside the church were "virtually incinerated."

After the fire, the brick and stone of the outer walls still stood near-complete and were determined to be structurally sound. A steel support skeleton was later attached to the outside to brace the walls for a possible later reconstruction of the interior of the building and restoration of the façade.

The congregation now meets in a building across the street from the burnt out structure.

In popular culture

Although some news reports confused the two buildings, this is not the same Pilgrim Baptist Church as that used as the "Triple Rock" church in the movie The Blues Brothers
The Blues Brothers
The Blues Brothers are an American blues and soul revivalist band founded in 1978 by comedy actors Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi as part of a musical sketch on Saturday Night Live...

, which stands on 91st Street several miles to the south.

External links