“Bishop Louis Henry Ford, the influential Black pastor who saved a noteworthy 1830s house from ruin and rehabbed it over the course of decades, may be honored with more than simply renaming the house.
“City officials ‘are looking at ways we might amplify the story’ of Ford buying the Greek Revival house when it was about a century old and fixing it up with his congregation at St. Paul Church of God in Christ, Erin Harkey, commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, said at a community meeting yesterday about the remaking proposal.
“‘It’s clear we’ve reached a critical point in the history of the house,’ Harkey said. Owned by the city since 1977 and officially known as the Henry B. Clarke House after the Chicago pioneer who built it in 1836, the house has recently been held up as an example of whiting out Black history.
“Signage and other information about the house ‘has been light on the role Bishop Ford played in the preservation’ of the house, said Ald. Pat Dowell, whose 3rd Ward encompasses the Chicago Women’s Park & Gardens, where both this house and the Glessner House stand. ‘We have to be authentic about the people who gave their blood, sweat and tears” to rescue and repair the house,’ Dowell said.
“Harkey said the house will likely be renamed the Clarke/Ford House, but that in a larger way, ‘we are considering the future of the house.’ The time is right, she said. The city begins a $1 million renovation of the house in September.
“Renaming and repositioning the house to acknowledge Bishop Ford is one piece of Chicago’s nation-leading Black house movement, a grassroots push to memorialize momentous Black figures in the homes where they did their work, outside mainstream institutions. In recent years, the homes of Emmett Till and his pioneering mother, blues icon Muddy Waters, entrepreneur S.B. Fuller and others have been part of the movement.
“After stewarding the house from 1941 to 1977, Ford wasn’t invited to the city’s rededication of the house as a museum in 1982, said Elizabeth Blasius, an architectural historian and principal of Preservation Futures, which has been working with Ford on the effort to better recognize his father’s history with the house.
“Bishop Ford saw his church’s work with the building as symbolic of the Black community’s efforts elsewhere. In 1969, he told the Chicago Tribune that ‘here in the ghetto, grass is growing all around, and flowers. So many people think the black community is supposed to destroy everything. Destroy everything? Here we have preserved the oldest house. This is our message.’
“In 1965, an architect who had supervised the creation of a list of historic buildings in Chicago in the 1930s told the Chicago Tribune that ‘Bishop Ford and his congregation deserve a great deal of credit for preserving this home.'” (Rodkin, Crain’s Chicago Business, 8/24/22)