Senior Pastor Rev. Dr. B. Herbert Martin Sr.: Progressive Community Church is at 48th and Wabash, and it’s one of the oldest nondenominational African-American churches in the city, founded in the 1920s during the first great migration from the south of African Americans. So in many ways we have grown up with the community of Bronzeville, and with its rich history of culture and art and especially in music, jazz and gospel, you know, being the bedrock to our worship style.
Ralph Pugh, University Archivist: A. Philip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, one of the very early and important African-American civil rights and labor unions, organized its Chicago chapter at Progressive in the 1920s. It’s just an example among many of Progressive serving as an anchor for not only religion but also progressive political and civil rights action. Twenty-seventeen is the 95th anniversary of Progressive Community Church, and the reverend approached Illinois Institute of Technology to house the materials of his career and also of the church. He wanted to make sure they were off the church property and in a place where people could come and access them in a regular reading room, which we have here at Galvin Library.
Martin: We had been very concerned of losing so much of our history simply because of poor storage and damage and so forth. And we certainly do not want to repeat what happened at the Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church when the fire came and all of their archives and history was lost in that fire. So we thank IIT for opening and forming the partnership.
Pugh: The materials from the Reverend Martin that illustrate his connection with progressive politics are quite fascinating, and some of them are quite photogenic. For example, there’s an invitation to the reverend still in its original envelope inviting him to Barack Obama’s 2009 inaugural. There are photographs of him with national luminaries like Jane Fonda and press coverage of his time as head of the Chicago Housing Authority. Not only are there materials on the history of the church in terms of paper form, but we also have from them a large collection of videotapes. It’s a great chronology and overview of American life as seen from the South Side.
Martin: It’s a wonderful, wonderful thing. The people are very excited about it, and I’m hopeful that as we develop this relationship and with the technology you have and with whatever oral contributions that we can make, this will become a source or resource for folks who interested in how churches in Bronzeville have helped transform the community, keep it alive.