Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church, Chicago, 1953 - Photography Archive - The Gordon Parks Foundation

Pastor Ledbetter, Chicago, Illinois, 1953

In 1953, Life sent Parks to Chicago to do a story on the Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church, located at 2151 West Washington Boulevard on the city’s Near West Side. A white reporter accompanied Parks, but the members of the church ultimately asked Parks to do the story on his own. Although the magazine ultimately did not run the story, Parks was on record as both the photographer and the writer. In the unpublished manuscript written for Life, Parks described the church as “a temple of hope to thousands of Negro people caught in the backyard of this vast city. It is a haven in a world of unending trouble.”

In addition to photographing the congregation, Parks spent time with the Church's pastor, the Reverend Ernest Franklin Ledbetter, as he provided outreach and support to his community. One especially memorable image from the article shows a moment of silence in which Ledbetter, standing before his congregation, closes his eyes and holds up his hands, palms facing out, in a call to prayer.