NORTH LAWNDALE — When the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. came to Chicago to support the black community’s struggle to end redlining in the city, he chose North Lawndale as his home base.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the church that King made his home will host a commemorative interfaith service and community breakfast to celebrate his life and the lasting legacy that his work left in North Lawndale.
The fifth annual celebration of King’s birthday at Stone Temple Missionary Baptist Church, 3622 W. Douglas Blvd. is organized in partnership with the North Lawndale Historical and Cultural Society, and aims to inspire residents of the neighborhood to take pride in the tremendous history that permeates their community.
Visitors from other parts of the city are also invited to pay their respects to King while also appreciating the contributions of North Lawndale to the Civil Rights movement and the cultural identity of Chicago.
According to Stone Temple Pastor Reshorna Fitzpatrick, one of the highlights for many coming to honor King on his birthday is the pulpit from which he delivered sermons and helped to organize the congregation during the Civil Rights era.
“He set a foundation that he was working for African Americans, and anyone who was suffering from inequality, racism, poor housing or being locked out of certain neighborhoods because of your race,” Fitzpatrick said.
The breakfast is also presented in partnership with the Jewish Community Relations Council, reflecting the renewed kinship between the North Lawndale of the past, when the area was home to one of the city’s main Jewish communities, and the North Lawndale of the present, which became overwhelmingly black during the 1950s as the Great Migration of blacks fleeing Jim Crow in the South resulted in intensifying redlining policies and white flight to the north side.
Visitors can see pieces of the history of Lawndale’s shifting racial demographics in the architecture of Stone Temple Missionary Baptist Church itself. The church was originally built in 1926 as a synagogue for the neighborhood’s thriving Romanian Jewish community, and the church still features Jewish symbolism including stars of David in the church’s columns and stained glass.
“People were escaping anti-semitism in Romania, and they came here and this is where they place their roots,” Fitzpatrick said.
King’s legacy at the church celebrates the shared history of resistance against persecution and the struggle for liberation. Continuing that legacy, each year on King’s birthday, the church selects a theme representing his life and his principles.
This year’s Restorative Justice theme also honors the community’s work creating new pathways for rehabilitating young offenders with the North Lawndale Restorative Justice Community Court, one of the first courts of its kind in the county. One of the court’s founders, Chief Judge Timothy Evans, will speak at the service.
Volunteers will also be working on several projects at the church and across Lawndale in memory of King’s legacy of community service.
“Dr. King was big on service and bringing people together and organizing and making things happen, and so having a day of rest on his day seems like an oxymoron,” Fitzpatrick said. “He was a man of service. And so when you come together on MLK Day you want to make it count.”
Students from UIC will be chipping in on some of the service projects including building bookshelves to improve Stone Temple’s community reading room and working on a recycling and composting project for the church’s heritage peace garden.
North Lawndale Historical and Cultural Society president Blanche Killingsworth-Suggs is glad that students are joining the day of service because a priority for her organization in planning the event was bringing older generations and younger generations together to reflect on King’s vision of peace, unity and equity on the West Side.
“You got the young people, you’re my future. I’m your past. So when the both come together you build a strong community,” she said.
The entire event from the morning’s sermons through the breakfast will be aimed at opening up intergenerational conversations about Lawndale, King and the work that is still left to do to create real justice and peace in Chicago.
All are welcome to the free event, which begins at 9:30 a.m. Jan. 20 at Stone Temple Missionary Baptist Church. The service will feature guest speakers reflecting on King, as well as musical performances. Visitors from the community and across the Chicago area are invited to join and build fellowship with one another at the full breakfast which will include bagels and lox, eggs, turkey bacon, sausage, grits oatmeal and desserts.
“The way that Pastor Fitzpatrick set things up, there’s no choice but to meet each other…. We are here to break bread,” Killingsworth-Suggs said.
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.
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