NORTH LAWNDALE — The city wants to designate Stone Temple Baptist Church a Chicago landmark, officials announced late Monday.
The 90-year-old church frequently hosted sermons by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and has served as a "community icon" in North Lawndale for decades, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said.
The church provided "a forum for Dr. Martin Luther King’s vision for equitable housing in Chicago during the Civil Rights era, and a place of worship for community residents since the 1920s,” Emanuel said. “It’s entirely appropriate that the Landmarks Commission should consider honoring its important role in the community with a Landmark designation.”
Located at 3620 W. Douglas Blvd., the brick-and-stone building was built in 1926 as a synagogue for Romanian Jews who came to the U.S. to escape state-sanctioned anti-Semitism, according to a city press release. In 1954, the synagogue was bought by an African-American congregation who moved their Baptist church from the South Side into the former synagogue under the leadership of Rev. J. M. Stone.
Stone was a friend of Atlanta pastor Martin Luther King, Sr., and as early as 1959, Martin Luther King, Jr. began speaking at Stone Temple Baptist Church.
In 1966, King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference turned their attention to poverty and segregation in northern cities. King chose Chicago to conduct a campaign of non-violent action known as the Chicago Freedom Movement to end urban slums that trapped African-Americans in poverty.
Stone Temple Baptist Church was one of a handful of churches that welcomed King and he preached their frequently during the Chicago Freedom Movement. The campaign’s marches to all white neighborhoods raised the national consciousness about housing discrimination and forced the city and business leaders to the negotiating table where an agreement was forged to open the city’s housing market.
King called the agreement the “first step in a thousand mile journey” and the Chicago Freedom Movement shaped the debate that led to the passage of 1968 Fair Housing Act.
Stone Temple Baptist Church is currently led by Bishop Derrick M. Fitzpatrick, Rev. J.M. Stone’s grandson. Fitzpatrick has requested the building be considered for landmark designation.
The city's Landmarks Commission will consider a preliminary recommendation for landmark status at a meeting Feb. 4, officials said.
If ultimately approved as a landmark, the church would be protected from significant alteration and demolition.
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