“For the first time in three years, a West Side church community gathered in person to honor Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and legacy.
“Stone Temple Missionary Baptist Church, a historically Black church in North Lawndale, has held an event marking King’s birthday every year since 2015, but the event was held virtually in 2021 and 2022 due to concerns over COVID-19.
On Monday, church members returned to the church at 3622 W. Douglas Blvd., where King preached while living in Chicago in the 1960s. Monday’s celebration featured performances and speakers including Stone Temple’s pastor Bishop Derrick M. Fitzpatrick, North Lawndale Historical and Cultural Society founder Blanche Killingsworth, Tiffany Walden, co-founder of The TRiiBE, and others.
“Volunteers from the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Jewish United Fund gave away food to those in need during the event.
“Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, also spoke at Monday’s event. Miller was instrumental in getting the church city landmark status in 2016.
“‘It’s about community,’ he said. ‘It’s about different communities coming together. Today, you saw the Jewish United Fund and several synagogues come together with the Stone Temple congregation here on the West Side of the city. You saw different races and different socioeconomic groups coming together.”’
“Before Stone Temple was a Christian church, it was Jewish synagogue. Many of the building’s original fixtures, including several Stars of David, still remain.
“Pastor Chris Harris of Bright Star Church Chicago and Rabbi Shoshanah Conover of Temple Sholom said the city’s Black and Jewish communities face many of the same challenges. They urged those gathered to ‘stand with’ and ‘show up’ for each other to fight racism and antisemitism. Pastor Fitzpatrick said it’s important for people of different religions to support each other amid a rise in antisemitism nationwide.
“Just a few years before his death in 1968, King came to Chicago with his wife Coretta Scott King to live in a rundown apartment at 16th Street and Hamlin Avenue. He was invited to come to the city by the Chicago Freedom Movement to address redlining and housing inequality.
“King spent 17 months in Chicago, fighting for fair and open housing with nonviolent strategies like rallies, boycotts and grassroots lobbying. A march in what was predominantly-white Marquette Park at the time led to a mob of angry white residents attacking King and other protestors, according to WTTW.
“‘Dr. King said we have to have an audacious hope for the future and so I have that audacious hope that the future is gonna be brighter,’ Fitzpatrick said. ‘We may have some dark yesterdays but we’ll also have some brighter tomorrows.'” (McDonald, Block Club Chicago, 1/17/23)
Located at 3622 W. Douglas Boulevard in Chicago’s North Lawndale community, Stone Temple Baptist Church was originally a synagogue called First Roumanian Congregation. The soaring yellow masonry building was built in 1926 by Jewish immigrants primarily from Romania and designed by Chicago architect Joseph W. Cohen & Co.
The historic building transitioned to Stone Temple Baptist Church in the 1950s under the leadership of Reverend J.M. Stone. During the late 1950s and 1960s Reverend Stone and Stone Temple Baptist proved a strong voice advocating for Civil Rights. As early as 1959, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was in Chicago, he frequently visited Stone Temple Baptist and often addressed the congregation from the podium. During the 1966 Chicago Freedom Movement, Stone Temple Baptist was one of his key bases of support.
Preservation Chicago played an important role in outreaching to Bishop Derrick Fitzpatrick and his congregation to encourage and advocate for the Chicago Landmark Designation which was awarded in 2016. The historic building is highly significant for its architecture and its important role in the Civil Rights Movement.
Additionally, the podium from which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached remains in the sanctuary of Stone Temple Baptist Church. Preservation Chicago continues to advocate that this extraordinary artifact be prominently displayed in a leading Chicago museum such as the DuSable Museum of African American History, and perhaps on occasion loaned to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C.