State pledges $1M to rebuild historic church
January 9, 2006 (WLS) -- The landmark Pilgrim Baptist Church burned on Friday, but sizeable financial pledges came Monday, and investigators confirmed the fire was caused by roofers using blow torches. Among the financial pledges: a controversial $1 million from the State of Illinois. Police say there is no reason to suspect the fire was anything but accidental.
Governor Rod Blagojevich came to the St. John Missionary Baptist Church Monday night to score points with a huge audience of African-American churchgoers. The church is 82 blocks directly south of the burned Pilgrim Baptist Church.
There were over 2,000 worshipers and some of Chicago's most influential black clergymen and women watching as the governor made his announcement that he would order money to build school and administrative buildings for the Pilgrim Baptist Church that burned last Friday.
"I'm committing $1 million to the rebuilding of the Pilgrim Baptist Church," said the governor.
Only the exterior walls of the 115-year-old building remain standing. Black Christians bought the former synagogue in 1922 and Pilgrim became one of the city's biggest congregations that heard its long-time music director, Thomas Dorsey, virtually invent gospel music there.
The governor wants the history preserved.
"You think about its importance in the movement towards social change and advancing for issues relating to equal opportunities, this development is much bigger than just the rebuilding of a church," Blagojevich said.
But Republican candidate for governor Jim Oberweis called the governor's $1 million offer a blatant political move.
"It's a great idea, but you have to have the financing in place, and this is a political move, and he's been making a lot of political moves that are going to Cost illinois taxpayers dearly," Oberweis said.
"I think it's the right thing to do because of the unique status of the Pilgrim Baptist Church in the history of the City of Chicago, history of the state and in the history of the African-American community," said the governor.
The Pilgrim Baptist Church trustee board was actually having a meeting Monday night while the governor was 82 blocks away speaking to the crowd at St. John Missionary Baptist. We understand that the trustee board got wind of the governor's plan by telephone. They also understand that they will have to rebuild the parts of their building at 33rd and Indiana that will be used for religious purposes by raising their own money.
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