CHICAGO - Thirty months after a promise was made by Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, a Baptist church in Chicago finally received the $1 million it had been waiting for to rebuild a burnt-out building in place of a historic Chicago landmark.
A spectacular fire had struck Pilgrim Baptist Church, located on the south side of Chicago, and nearby buildings in January 2006, prompting the Blagojevich administration to agree to grant the church $1 million to rebuild a building next to the church that would be used as a community center.
However, due to what the governor claimed to be “a bureaucratic mistake,” the promise was not fulfilled. Instead, the money had been handed over to a clout-heavy private PK-8 school that had rented space from the church before the 2006 fire.
It wasn’t until June 30 that the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity signed off on a grant agreement that would enable Pilgrim Baptist to tap into its state money within weeks.
Robert Vaughn, chairman of Pilgrim Baptist's board of trustees, credited the Chicago Sun-Times for helping the church secure its $1 million after the local newspaper reported of the governor’s failure to live up to his promise last May.
“I thank you guys,” he said, according to the Sun-Times.
The secured grant money will be used for the reconstructing the building next door to the church which will be used as community center for legal fairs, health clinics, and other nonreligious purposes.
The former building of Pilgrim Baptist Church, which became home to its congregation in 1922, was built in 1890 by architect Louis Sullivan and engineer Dankmar Adler originally as a synagogue. It had served as the church of several renowned figures – including Bessie Coleman, the first black aviator; Jack Jackson, a heavyweight boxing champion; and Thomas Dorsey, the "Father of Gospel Music" – and was designated as a Chicago landmark in December of 1981.
Since the blaze two years ago, the congregation of Pilgrim Baptist has been meeting across the street at 3300 South Indiana Street. The fire struck in the year the church was to celebrate its 90th anniversary.