The National Trust for Historic Preservation pledged on July 15 more than $3M in grant to help save 40 African American landmarks in the U.S., including four historic Black churches. The latest grant for the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund is the largest preservation effort yet in the program’s history, reports Religion News Service.
“African American historic places have been undervalued for decades. This part of the preservation movement is working to catch up,” said Brent Leggs, founding executive director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund. “The recipients of this funding exemplify centuries of African American resilience, activism, and achievement, some known and some yet untold, that tells the complex story of American history in the United States.”
Lonnie Bunch, the first African American and first historian to serve as Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, said, “These grants will positively impact 40 communities nationwide and result in the creation of a visible, preserved legacy of African American contributions.”
The four churches represent the through line of the role of the Black church in the Black community. —Brent Leggs, founding executive director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund
Leggs explained, “The four churches represent the through line of the role of the Black church in the Black community. They’re spaces that support the religious health of the Black community, but they’re also safe havens and spaces for community programs that uplift the broader culture.”
One of the grant recipients is the Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ in Chicago. The nearly-100-year-old building is in need of structural repairs. It was the church where the funeral of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African American who was lynched in 1955 after being accused of offending a white woman, was held. His mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, decided to have an open-casket funeral to show the world the brutality a person could inflict to another. The event highlighted racial violence and sparked the civil rights movement.
“Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ in Chicago is a living witness to the bravery, character and self-determination of Mamie Till Mobley,” said Leggs.
Marvel McCain Parker, management consultant for Roberts Temple, said the church will receive $150,000 and it will help in its restoration and preservation work. She hopes that Roberts Temple will become a national landmark in the future. “We’re excited about this second phase of advancement for Roberts Temple to achieve national landmark status.”
Another church, the Asbury United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C., has received $100,000 grant to repair its façade, its bell tower and its centerpiece Good Shepherd window. Rev. Ianther M. Mills, Asbury’s first female senior pastor, was overwhelmed with the donation, saying, “We are filled with joy because this makes a great difference in being able to restore our bell tower.”
The People’s A.M.E. Zion Church in Syracuse, New York, founded in the 1840s, is another grant recipient. The funds will be used to restore the ancient church’s exterior, designed by Wallace Rayfield. Rayfield was the second Black architect to be licensed in the U.S.
“It’s great to be able to celebrate the beauty and the divine contributions of Black architects like Wallace, and help bring greater appreciation and attention to the role of Black designers,” said Leggs.
The National Trust chose another historic church, Mount Zion Baptist Church in Athens, Ohio to receive funding for its renovation. The church disbanded in the 2000s and the building will be transformed to become a community center that will support the Black community and other marginalized people in Southeast Ohio.