Rev. Walter McCray, a lifelong West Sider who wants to build a research library for his publishing house. | Provided

East Garfield Park may get a research library containing about 6,000 “Black, African and Christian” books sometime within the next few years, if all goes according to the plan of a West Side publisher.

Rev. Walter Arthur McCray, a lifelong resident of East Garfield Park, publishes Christian books that are tailored for Black people through his Black Light Fellowship publishing house. 

The publishing house is in the process of purchasing a vacant lot at 115 S. Francisco Ave., where he plans to build a mixed-used building with publishing offices on the first floor and four apartments on the second and third floors. He presented his plans during the June 22 meeting of the Garfield Park Community Council’s Open Space and Land Use Committee. 

McCray said that anyone in the public would be able to browse the materials, but they wouldn’t be able to check the books out. The land sale is expected to be finalized within a month and McCray will have three years to finish the project.

 McCray has pastored a number of churches over the years, but currently pastors the Near West Side’s Greater Union Baptist Church, 1956 W. Warren Blvd.  He launched Black Light Fellowship in 1979 as an extension of his efforts to promote Black-centric perspectives of Christianity. Most of the titles currently available on sale were written by McCray himself. 

“We provide knowledge, identity-based knowledge,” he said during the June 22 meeting. “Black Light fellowship does Black Christian literature [for] those who are Christian and those who have a sense of Black African history.”

While Black Light Fellowship has had its own office space and even a bookstore in the past, he and his wife currently run the company out of the basement of their home.

The vacant lot McCray is buying is located across the street from his house, at the northeast corner of Francisco Avenue and Wilcox Street. He said that the Cook County Land Bank Authority agreed to sell the lot “about a month ago,” but they were still in the process of closing on the property.

McCray said that the business entrance will be located on the Francisco side while the residential entrance will be located on the Wilcox side. The building will have four two-bedroom apartments, two on each floor. McCray said that they haven’t decided how the tenants would be selected and whether the apartments would be affordable. The research library would go in the basement, he said.

The lot is currently zoned residential and McCray said they would need to rezone the property to allow for the publishing office use. He said that they “already have financing” for the project, but he didn’t elaborate any further.

When asked about the timetable, McCray said that one of the conditions of the sale is that they must complete the project within no more than 36 months.

Marietta McDuffy was among several West Side residents in attendance who wondered how the project would benefit the community. McCray said that, in addition to publishing books, which will allow them to do some local hiring, the offices will function as the extension of his ministry, offering information about area job opportunities and educational seminars.

“Our presence on that particular corner, on this corridor, will be impactful in and of itself,” McCray said, adding that if his planned research library “doesn’t serve the least of these in the community, why should it be here, whether it’s an academic situation or not?”

Igor Studenkov

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...