It is located on South Indiana Avenue in the thriving Bronzeville neighborhood. Pilgrim was designed in 1890 by architects Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler and originally constructed as a synagogue. In 1922 a Baptist congregation acquired the building forming Pilgrim Baptist Church and creating a safe haven and pillar of hope for African Americans migrating from the south.
In the 1930s Pilgrim became known as the birthplace of gospel music. Thomas Dorsey, (The Father of Gospel Music) served as the music director for decades. Mahalia Jackson, Rev. James Cleveland, Aretha Franklin, Albertina Walker and the Staple Singers among many artists who performed at the church. At the height of the Civil Rights Movement, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered sermons at the church, building on the church’s legacy, rich culture and tradition of activism during this integral part of American history.
On April 26, 1973, the church was added to the National Register of Historic Places (a list of buildings deemed worthy of preservation by the United States Government) and was granted landmark status by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks on December 18, 1981.