“The Chicago church where Emmett Till’s badly beaten body was displayed in an open casket, helping to ignite the civil rights movement, was named Thursday to a list of the nation’s most endangered historic places.
“‘The Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ Building, in the historic Bronzeville neighborhood at 4021 S. State St., has ‘severe structural issues,’ is little used by its congregation and badly needs funding for rehabilitation, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group annually releases a list of America’s 11 most threatened historic sites.
“The trust’s decision to put the church on that list, which seeks to direct public attention and funding to threatened properties, is the latest sign of the racial reckoning that has roiled the nation after the killing of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police.
“Earlier this month, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks granted preliminary landmark status to the red-brick two-flat in where Till lived with his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, who insisted on the open casket at her son’s funeral.
“While the trust previously has placed buildings associated with the history of African American and other minority groups on the list, this year’s roster marks perhaps the organization’s most dramatic departure from traditional preservation efforts to save buildings noted for their aesthetic qualities or associations with white men.
“We do believe that preservation can and must be a tool for racial justice and equity and reconciliation,” said Katherine Malone-France, the trust’s chief preservation officer.
“Built in 1923, and later remodeled, the Roberts Temple is not in danger of demolition because the City Council designated it an official Chicago landmark in 2006. Trust officials said it is threatened instead by structural problems that came to their attention two years ago and have gotten progressively worse. The extent of the those problems is unclear.” (Kamin, 9/24/20)
Preservation Chicago played an important role in the Chicago Landmark Designation of Roberts Temple Church in 2005 and 2006. At that time, we had advocated to landmark both Roberts Temple Church and Emmett Till’s Home. While we were successful at landmarking Roberts Temple Church, it would take until 2020 to successfully landmark Emmett Till’s Home.