CHICAGO — A community-centric public plaza honoring gospel singer, civil rights activist and Chatham transplant Mahalia Jackson was celebrated Friday with a grand opening ceremony.

The launch event for the Mahalia Jackson Court at 1 E. 79th St. ran from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. and includes a gospel performance, DJ set, and guest speakers such as Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Jackson, known by many as the greatest Gospel singer, was a frequent performer at Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches. It’s said that her words of encouragement led him to deliver his famous “I have a dream” speech in 1963.

She moved to Chicago from New Orleans as an adolescent.

“She is a great inspiration for the next generation,” Myrna Fawcett said.

According to the plaza’s website:

Mahalia Jackson (1911-1972) was an American gospel singer and one of the most influential vocalists in the 20th century. Her ardent advocacy for gospel music throughout her 40+ year career led to considerable and unexpected success in a recording career, selling an estimated 22 million records and performing in front of integrated and secular audiences in concert halls around the world.

Drawing on her life experiences of growing up in poverty in New Orleans, living and touring throughout the Jim Crow South, she was a passionate civil rights activist. She performed at fundraisers and took the stage at the 1963 March on Washington. Additionally, she developed a close friendship with Martin Luther King Jr.’s family throughout her career.

Operated by the Greater Chatham Initiative, the Mahalia Jackson Court is a new public plaza serving as a new placemaking amenity for the community. Named after Chatham transplant and gospel icon Mahalia Jackson, her music provided the early soundtrack for the Chicago Black Arts Movement.