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16th Street Baptist Church Awarded $200,000 for Historic Preservation

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The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund announced on Monday its first round of Preserving Black Churches grants to 35 historic Black churches across the U.S., for a total investment of $4 million.

The announcement came as the nation commemorated the life and impact of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, Inc. in Birmingham was awarded $200,000 to establish a new endowment that supports the long-term maintenance and restoration of the building’s historic assets in the future.

The church was bombed in 1963 by the Ku Klux Klan, killing four girls, shocking the nation and galvanizing the Civil Rights Movement.

Internationally recognized for its role in advancing Civil Rights in the United States, for several years, the church has strategically planned for the restoration of the historic church and parsonage.

Also, Old Sardis Baptist Church, which later became the birthplace of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, received a $55,000 project planning grant.

The Preserving Black Churches program is a $20 million initiative funded by Lilly Endowment Inc., to help historic Black churches and congregations reimagine, redesign and deploy historic preservation to protect the cultural assets and legacies they steward, tell their stories of resiliency and hope, and carry their missions into the future. With more than $80 million in funding, the Action Fund is the largest U.S. resource dedicated to the preservation of African American historic places.

“Leaving an indelible imprint on our society, historic Black churches hold an enduring legacy of community, spirituality, and freedom that continues to span generations,” said Brent Leggs, executive director, African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund and senior vice president, National Trust for Historic Preservation. “The Action Fund created the Preserving Black Churches program to recognize and celebrate the Black church for its contributions on American life, culture, and history, while also investing in their physical permanence and financial sustainment into the future. We are honored to award our first round of grants with the resources needed to ensure the Black church continues to stand in its fullest glory.”

The Black church has played a prominent role in advancing critical democratic and societal change.  According to Pew Research Center, around three-quarters of Black adults say predominantly Black churches have helped advance the fight for racial equity.

“From one room praise houses to unprecedented metropolitan mega churches, Black churches since slavery times have been the heart and soul of the African American community,” said Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., professor, historian, filmmaker, and national advisory councilmember for the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.

““So, it is inspiring to see the Action Fund’s commitment to preserving their history and their physical structures. After all, these are our sacred sites, which our ancestors built from the ground up, and we must do everything we can to ensure their survival.  Preserving these structures is a visible way of preserving a crucial chapter of Black History.”

Today Black churches are experiencing challenges like deferred maintenance, insufficient funds and threats of demolition. With leadership support from Lilly Endowment Inc, Preserving Black Churches will advance strategies that model and strengthen stewardship and asset management, interpretation, and fundraising activities of historic Black churches across the country.

In addition to helping churches preserve their historic buildings, the program is designed to help congregations strengthen their capacities to serve the spiritual and social needs of their communities for years to come.

The first-round grantees include the following churches in Alabama: First Missionary Baptist Church in Hayneville, a church that was a vital launch pad for political activism and organizing in Lowndes County and for its association to the original Black Panther Party for Self-Defense; Old Ship African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church Montgomery, dating from 1852, the oldest Black congregation in the city. It has hosted luminaries such as Frederick Douglass and U.S. presidents and was instrumental to the Montgomery Bus Boycott; Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church Notasulga, designed and built by church members in 1919, Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church intersected with national history when some of its members were recruited to participate in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study.

To learn more about the Preserving Black Churches program, visit savingplaces.org/blackchurches