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16th Street Baptist Church launches preservation campaign

The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham is competing for a $150,000 historic preservation grant. (Michael Tomberlin / Alabama NewsCenter)
Solomon Crenshaw Jr.
For The Birmingham Times

Fifty-five years after Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was the epicenter of the campaign for civil rights, a campaign was launched Monday to help preserve the historic place of worship.

The church launched a month-long effort to win national funding to complete significant preservation of the iconic building as part of the Partners in Preservation competition for funding.

The Rev. Arthur Price, pastor of Sixteenth Street, said the aim is to earn $150,000 which will place protective glass over the recently restored windows and make repairs to the church’s cupola and bell towers.

Reverend Arthur Price of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church speaks during the preservation campaign launch. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr. Photos, For The Birmingham Times)

“We get tens of thousands of people who come to Birmingham to view this structure every year,” Price said, noting that some preservation work was done 10 to 15 years ago. “With the weather we have in Alabama, it’s always a threat to the structure. This way, we can continue to preserve it and continue to make sure this place is here for future generations to see so we can continue to tell the story about what happened here 55 years ago.”

The church is among 20 nominees for preservation funding. The winners of the funding will be determined by popular vote. Persons register and can vote as many as five times a day on an address.

Public voting began Monday and runs through October 26 to determine the winner of the grant. An individual can vote up to five times daily online at www.16thStreetBaptist.org or by texting “MAINSTREET” to 52886.

As many as five Main Streets will receive a share of $2 million in American Express funding. Participants can also enter for a chance to win either a weekly prize drawing or a grand prize drawing from National Geographic.

Price called 16th Street Baptist a place of sacrifice and service where social change took place “where lessons have been learned, where lives have been touched. (It is) where this land was transformed because the events that happened here helped change the world.”

The pastor noted that President Lyndon Johnson’s Civil Rights Act of 1964 came on the heels of the tragic bombing of the church that injured scores of church members and took the lives of four African American girls. The tragedy also led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“Sixteenth Street was everybody’s church,” said Priscilla Cooper,

(Solomon Crenshaw Jr. Photos, For The Birmingham Times)

executive director of the Alabama African American Civil Rights Consortium and former vice president for the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. “We embrace it and we’re asking everybody to get on the computer, to get on the cellphone, to text … Lift your voice so [the church] can be among the recipients of this recognition and award.”

REV Birmingham, which successfully helped with the return of the iconic sign outside the Alabama Theater last year, is one of the organizations backing the year’s campaign with Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.

“I guess they liked us so much that they called us back,” said REV Birmingham CEO David Fleming, with a smile.

Fleming said authenticity must be a calling card for any city, “and there’s no better way to be authentic than historic preservation. Our significant buildings, our significant structures help us tell our story and help people connect with the authenticity of the city.”

This year’s competition is focused on sites related to equal rights. “And you can’t have Birmingham not in that story,” Fleming said.

Partners in Preservation is an initiative created by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and American Express. Its purpose is to engage the public in preserving and increasing awareness of America’s historic places and their role in sustaining local communities.

Since its inception in 2006, Partners in Preservation has committed more than $22 million in support of more than 200 sites.

The 2018 Partners in Preservation: Main Streets campaign invites the public to #VoteYourMainStreet to decide which historic sites along 20 of America’s favorite Main Streets should receive $2 million in preservation funding from American Express with each winner getting $150,000.

For more information and to vote daily for Sixteenth Street Baptist Church through Oct. 26, visit www.16thStreetBaptist.org and share via social media using #16thStreetBaptist and #VoteYourMainStreet.