Quinn Chapel’s early beginnings can be traced to 1844. A group of seven individuals met regularly in the home of John Day, located at what is now an alley between Randolph and Lake Streets near State Street. Over time, the prayer group increased its membership and later relocated to the home of Maria Parker, one of the original founders. In 1846, the ministry moved to an old school house located at State and Madison Streets. They then asked the African Methodist Episcopal Church to accept them as a congregation, and to send a minister to serve them. Their request was approved, and on Thursday, July 22, 1847, they were recognized as an official congregation of the A.M.E. Church. They selected the name Quinn Chapel in honor of Bishop William Paul Quinn, the A.M.E. missionary who organized many churches in Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri.
Quinn Chapel has stood at the corner of Wabash Avenue and Twenty-fourth Street since 1891, and has contributed significantly to the cultural heritage and visual Gothic style of architecture prominent in the 1800’s in buildings designed by Henry F. Starbuck (exterior) and Charles H. McAfee (interior). The Joint Commission on Landmarks designated Quinn Chapel to its National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
Quinn Chapel is rich in history. Prior to the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation, Quinn played an important part in the abolition movement in Chicago and served as a station for the Underground Railroad. Quinn was also instrumental in founding Bethel A.M.E. Church, Chicago Provident hospital, and Elam House. Presidents William B. McKinley and William Howard Taft, educators George Washington Carver and Booker T. Washington, poet and literary genius Paul Lawrence Dunbar and three of the most gifted preachers of this century: Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr., Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. are among the many nationally renowned individuals to address the congregation from Quinn’s pulpit. In recent years, Govenor Rod Blagojevich, Mayor Richard M. Daley, Congressmen Danny K. Davis, Bobby Rush, Jesse Jackson, Jr., Governor Pat Quinn and Senator Barack Obama (now President Obama) have stood in Quinn Chapel’s pulpit. Milton Olive III, posthumous recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor and for whom Olive-Harvey College is named, was a regular attendee of services, as a child, at Quinn Chapel.
In recent times, the church has played host to various community, political, and social events. Quinn Chapel hosted the premier performance of Wynton Marsalis’ “Mass,” and presented WTTW’s Patti LaBelle’s “Going Home to Gospel.” Quinn was also the location for two scenes from the movie “There Are No Children Here,” an Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Production, and was highlighted in a scene in the Paramount Pictures movie “Losing Isaiah”, starring Academy Award winning actress Halle Berry. An episode of Divine Restoration was filmed during the makeover of the Office and the Adult Sunday School room. Finally, Quinn’s history was an integral part of the WTTW11 broadcast “DuSable to Obama: Chicago’s Black Metropolis” which aired in June 2010.
While proud of Quinn’s heritage, the members of Quinn Chapel prayerfully continue to do the Lord’s work, to praise His name, and honor the past.