Mayor Emanuel joins Jewish, African American communities for MLK celebration

Text by Jay Bouchard
Video by Brendan Hickey

The Star of David, featured prominently in the windows and architecture of Stone Temple Baptist Church, illuminates a rich history between Jews and African Americans in Chicago.

A former synagogue in North Lawndale, Stone Temple Baptist Church was host to a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event on Monday that brought together the city’s Jewish and African American communities and drew an unexpected guest—Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Sponsored by the Jewish United Fund (JUF) of Chicago and the church, Monday’s celebration included a morning of service in which both communities prepared breakfast for North Lawndale residents followed by an event commemorating King’s legacy.

“When we see our shared origins, we see what we might do together,” said Rabbi Shoshanah Conover of Temple Sholom. “The importance of this event is being able to bring our communities together and say we’re in solidarity in addressing the different ills that are facing our city.”

Volunteers from the Jewish United Fund of Chicago and Stone Temple Baptist Church serve breakfast to residents of the North Lawndale neighborhood. (Jay Bouchard/MEDILL)
Volunteers from the Jewish United Fund of Chicago and Stone Temple Baptist Church serve breakfast to residents of the North Lawndale neighborhood. (Jay Bouchard/MEDILL)

Bishop Derrick Fitzpatrick, pastor of Stone Temple Baptist Church, echoed Conover’s sentiment and spoke to the importance of North Lawndale in light of King’s memory.

Fitzpatrick explained that the neighborhood was once home to a large number of Romanian Jewish immigrants. Furthermore, he noted that in 1964, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at Stone Temple Baptist Church as part of his housing advocacy work in Chicago.

“Dr. King had a lot of unity with the Jewish community,” Fitzpatrick said. “We need to maintain that going forth in this generation.”

Monday’s event was titled “Where are the Drum Majors?”—a question inspired by King’s 1968 speech, “The Drum Major Instinct.”

“A drum major is a person who goes out front and tries to lead,” Fitzpatrick reflected. “With all that is going on in our community, we need to have people come and talk about being a drum major—a drum major for peace, for justice, to eradicate violence.”

Among those who spoke Monday about the drum major instinct was Rahm Emanuel, Chicago’s first Jewish Mayor. Emanuel noted that his family has history in the North Lawndale neighborhood and that his grandfather was likely a member of the synagogue which preceded Stone Temple Baptist Church. Neither Emanuel nor Bishop Fitzpatrick could confirm his grandfather’s membership, but both thought it would have been probable.

He praised the church’s history of inviting King to speak in 1964 and announced his plans to make Stone Temple Baptist Church a Chicago landmark.

He said he wishes to make it a landmark “not only to hold the treasure of the building, but also to hold as a treasure what happened here as we go forward.”

Stone Temple Baptist Church (formerly a Jewish synagogue) seen from W. Douglass Blvd. in North Lawndale. The Star of David featured in the architecture harkens back to the years when many Jewish immigrants lived in North Lawndale. (Jay Bouchard/MEDILL)
Stone Temple Baptist Church (formerly a Jewish synagogue) seen from W. Douglass Blvd. in North Lawndale. The Star of David featured in the architecture harkens back to the years when many Jewish immigrants lived in North Lawndale. (Jay Bouchard/MEDILL)

Emanuel’s surprise presence at the event was met by with tremendous applause. The warm welcome comes at a time in which his relationship with Chicago’s African American community is strained.

In light of the Laquan McDonald shooting and alleged cover up, more than 100 pastors boycotted Emanuel’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Interfaith Breakfast last Friday, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The Jewish and African American community members near North Lawndale discuss their shared past and unified future at the third annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day gathering at Stone Temple Baptist Church. (Brendan Hickey/MEDILL)

However, his presence Monday in North Lawndale was free of animosity or protest and the congregation was jubilant as he announced plans to make Stone Temple Baptist Church a city landmark.

Monday marked the third annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day event hosted by the Jewish United Fund and Stone Temple Baptist Church.

“We come together to honor Dr. King and his commitment to service,” said Marissa Comin, assistant director of volunteer services for JUF.

Comin noted that JUF and Stone Temple Baptist Church are trying to strengthen their relationship and that they are planning several more service initiatives together in 2016.

Photo at top: Rahm Emanuel, Chicago’s first Jewish mayor, speaks to the congregation at Stone Temple Baptist Church during Monday’s “Where are the Drum Majors?” event. (Jay Bouchard/MEDILL)
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on print