Mahalia Jackson statue, memorial plaza unveiled in Chatham

Evelyn Holmes Image
Friday, September 2, 2022
Mahalia Jackson statue, memorial plaza unveiled in Chatham
Mahalia Jackson, considered to be the greatest gospel singer of all time, once called the Chatham neighborhood home.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- After much planning and anticipation, Chicago's South Side honored Mahalia Jackson with a memorial plaza in the Chatham neighborhood Friday.

Jackson, considered to be the greatest gospel singer of all time, once called the neighborhood home.

Longtime Chatham resident Letitia Patterson said she was happy "to see they are actually doing something with this space, and making it friendly, family friendly."

The community, politicians and other dignitaries gathered Friday afternoon at the once-vacant lot at 79th and State streets for a special ceremony to dedicate the space and a temporary 3-foot-tall bronze statue of Jackson.

Entitled "Mahalia, Song Of Greatness," the piece was created by local artist Gerald Griffin.

"The series was inspired by the negative social reaction to the monuments after the George Floyd incident," Griffin said.

Mahalia Jackson Court is the result of a partnership between the Carter Temple CME Church and the Greater Chatham Initiative. Funded through city and private grants, the space will eventually feature a small playground, community space, and food truck court.

"As someone said, without Mahalia, there would be no Aretha, 'cause Aretha was her protégé," said Nedra Fears, executive director of Greater Chatham Initiative. "And without Aretha, there would be no Beyoncé."

Jackson was an obvious choice for the memorial because of her commitment to civil rights.

Before the famed "I Have A Dream" speech in 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial, she's long been credited with inspiring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to deviate from his written remarks and share his vision.

"Those words, 'tell them about the dream, Martin,' not only were they important then, but that dream continues even now," said Dr. Joseph Gordan, pastor at Carter Temple CME Church.

The dedication comes as Mayor Lori Lightfoot's monuments commission recommended the permanent removal of more than a dozen of Chicago's monuments, including those of Christopher Columbus, citing racial healing and historical reckoning.

"But really what I want to focus on to infusing city with history that has not been memorialized," Lightfoot said.