The Greater Chatham Initiative and the City of Chicago Department of Planning and Development held a ribbon-cutting ceremony, on September 3, 2022, for the grand opening of the Mahalia Jackson Court, located on the corner of 79th & State Street.
Dignitaries, politicians, and the community came to honor one of Greater Chatham’s famous gospel singer and civil rights activist. The Mahalia Jackson Court was made possible with the partnership between The Greater Chatham Initiative, under the leadership of Nedra Sims Fears, and Carter Temple CME Church, which owns the lot and funding from private and city grants.
Inside the gated lot are several banners with photos of Jackson, a natural play space, a stage, and an exhibit in a purple container of the life and legacy of Jackson. The future goal is a community space, playground, and food truck court.
In the middle of the court is a 3-foot maquette statue of Jackson designed by gallery owner and artist Gerald Griffin. A 12-foot monument of Jackson is expected to be installed in 2023.
Residents of Greater Chatham see the Mahalia Jackson Court as a blessing and a long time coming. In the past, the location was liquor infested, and now the community has a safe gathering space.
JCarol Esco and Brenda Chavis-Horsley reminisced about growing up listening to Mahalia Jackson and how her music is still influential today.
“Mahalia Jackson’s words influenced me as a child. She was a woman of gospel. Her spiritual music comforts me through her singing,” says Esco, Pastor of Mount Carmel C.M.E. Church.
“My mother used to sing her songs. When my mom played a Mahalia Jackson record, we had to be quiet. She influenced me throughout my life as a churchgoer,” says Chavis-Horsley.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot attended the grand opening as a guest speaker. Distinguished guests and elected officials in attendance were Congressman Bobby Rush, State Rep. Nick Smith, State Senator Elgie Sims, and Alderman David Moore.
Lightfoot said reclaiming the lot was tremendous for the south side. “This is another effort to help revitalize this incredible neighborhood,” says Lightfoot. The Department of Planning and Development awarded Great Chatham Initiative $500,000 for the construction of the pop-up site. The Cultural Affairs and Special Events provided an additional $50,000 for constructing the Mahalia Jackson memorial. Lightfoot said the Mahalia Jackson Court is one of twelve public plazas that will create spaces for recreation, performances, pop-up shops, gardening, and other neighborhood activities and amenities.
Commissioner Maurice Cox said the team from Urban Roots, architects, and Chicago artists created a place with no place and a way out of no way. Cox said CTA Red Line commuters can stop at the court and get a cup of coffee.
Rev. Dr. Joseph B. Gordon, pastor of Carter Temple CME Church, said it was a great day for the City of Chicago, 79th Street, and the Chatham neighborhood. Gordon is looking forward to the launch of Gateway 79, which will provide retail space, affordable housing for families and seniors, and retail space. Gateway 79 will replace the Mahalia Jackson Court in a couple of years. “Until Gateway 79 comes to fruition, we were blessed with this opportunity to not only celebrate the great Mahalia Jackson, the same Mahalia whose voice honored God and lifted the broken and even encouraged Martin to speak about his dream,” says Gordon.
Mahalia Jackson was born October 26, 1911, in New Orleans, LA. Jackson began her singing career at Mt. Mariah Baptist Church in New Orleans. In 1927, during the Great Migration, Jackson moved to Chicago, IL, and was a Salem Baptist Church Choir member.
Jackson met Thomas Dorsey, known as the “Father of Gospel Music,” who was instrumental her gospel career. In 1947, Jackson signed with Apollo Record. Her recording of “Move on Up a Little Higher, was her first top-selling gospel song and gave her international fame and the title the “Queen of Gospel Music.”
Jackson was a businesswoman. She owned Mahalia’s Beauty Salon, Mahalia Jackson’s Fried Chicken, and Mahalia’s House of Flowers, a radio show and wrote a cookbook.
Jackson was involved in the Civil Rights Movement. In 1963, she sang at the March on Washington. Jackson appeared in movies, including Imitation of Life in 1959. Jackson performed at the inaugural ball for President John F. Kennedy, Carnegie Hall, and at Dr. Martin Luther King’s funeral.
In 1956, Jackson purchased a home at 8358 S. Indiana Avenue in the Chatham neighborhood. Jackson passed away on January 27, 1972, at the age of 60. A marker was erected at Jackson’s Chatham home by the Chicago Tribute Markers of Distinction.
The Mahalia Jackson Court is open Monday to Friday from 7am to 7pm, Saturday from 9am to 5pm and Sunday from 12pm to 5pm. For more information, go to https://www.mahaliajacksoncourt.com.