Natalie Gonzalez

Mahalia Jackson, the New Orleans-born gospel singer and civil rights activist, spent the later part of her life living in Chatham, in a spacious 1950s brick ranch house complete with seven rooms, a garage, a large chimney, and green lawns, located at 8358 South Indiana Avenue. When she moved to Chicago in 1927 at just sixteen, she lived with family and in various flats while she sang in churches up and down the South and West Sides of Chicago. After her 1947 hit, “Move On Up a Little Higher,” she gained international fame. With profits from her recordings and tours, she began investing in real estate on the South Side and looking for a home of her own. But when she began inquiring at homes with “For Sale” signs in Chatham, which was a majority-white suburb at the time, she was turned away by many homeowners—that is, until she stumbled across a white surgeon who had heard Jackson sing and was glad to sell his house to her. She bought the house in 1956 for $40,000 and was the second African-American homeowner on the block, after her neighbors, the Grants, who had moved in two years earlier.

After racial tensions subsided (tensions that included white neighbors shooting up her front windows and threatening to bomb her house) and the whites moved out, the neighborhood became the home of many of Chicago’s successful African-American business owners and bankers. All the while, Jackson worked to make her new house feel like a home. She purchased the Louis XIV furniture common in wealthy Louisiana homes and built an addition to the back of her house, complete with a white wrought iron veranda in true New Orleans style, which remains to this day. She opened her doors to many: civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr.; reporters like Edward Murrow and Studs Terkel; fellow artists, including Louis Armstrong; and her dozens of nieces and nephews.

In 1970, Jackson moved to Hyde Park. Her house stood empty for two years until she was approached by a banker by the name of Roland Burris, who was helping her finance the purchase of the Neoclassical Jewish synagogue on 50th Street and Drexel Avenue that is now the home of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. He offered to buy the house, and the sale was made in 1972. A few days later, on January 27, 1972, Jackson passed away. In March of that year, Burris, who would go on to become Illinois Comptroller and Attorney General before filling Obama’s senate seat after the 2008 election, moved into the house with his wife Berlean. In their forty-five years in the house at 84th and Indiana, much of the interior has been remodeled, though the tile in the back of the house is from Jackson’s own renovation. However, as the interior changes, the exterior has remained largely the same—even the porch lights on the upper veranda are still original. Burris, whose air is practical (and who is perhaps understandably more than a little suspicious of reporters in his home), seems to stand a little taller as he relays this information. “When we lived in a different part of the neighborhood, and we would have people over, we would always drive by and say ‘That’s Mahalia Jackson’s house, right there,’” he adds.

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    1. I always wanted to meet Ms. Jackson, but one Saturday in 1992 Mr. and Mrs. Burris allowed me and some friends into their home to see where Mahalia Jackson had once lived. Oh My God. I am still so grateful. Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Burris, and Mr. and Mrs. Steptoe.

  1. I grew up on 82nd and Michigan and I remember visiting her home and wanting to live with her! I am 60 years old now and can still remember that. All this came to my mind watching a special on Queen Aretha

    1. When I was about twelve we lived on the west side of Chicago and attended The Salvation Army Midwest Corp on Monroe and Campbell Ave. one day we had a major star come and sang it was Mahalia Jackson . I remember it so well and she sat next to me and patted me on my knee and say Nice Boy. When her performance was over she left only to find a flat tire. My father helped her by fixing the tire she was grateful and thanked my Dad.

      1. WOW! I bet this was an awesome moment to remember. I would have loved to have met her in person. Especially since she is my favorite Gospel Artist of all time. I sing many of the negro spirituals that she sang for solos in my church.

  2. I remember passing by her house on the way home from Neil School in the 1950’s. Sometimes Miz Jackson would be outside tending her front yard. I would sit in the grass and talk with her. I found it amazing that an adult would have an actual conversation with me.


  4. My grandparents bought a house at 8046 South Wabash in 1955. My grandmother stayed there until the late 60s or early 70s, then her daughter Took over the house. I always loved that neighborhood Chatham. When my grandmother bought it there was no Dan Ryan and a lot of people had chickens it was a lot of land there, that’s what I remember.

  5. Thanks for the Black History story/lesson. I grew up on the south side in Hyde Park, Park Manor and had many friends who live and grew up in Chatham. We must continue to share these stories to our great grandchildren,grandsons and let them know that we have been successful regardless of all the obstacles of sins (hate, jealousy, ignorance and greed). Even today as these events in our life/history are true their some who wish to block out these historic truths! May GOD continue to bless!

  6. The Mahalia Jackson article was nice but it was not long enough. I would like to have known more about her.

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