Black women’s clubhouse in Detroit gets preservation grant from National Park Services

The HDAB was selected as one of eight projects nationwide to be awarded a $75,000 History of Equal Rights Grant.

The Detroit Historic Designation Advisory Board (HDAB) will receive a $75,000 grant from the National Park Services, The Detroit News reports. 

The HDAB was selected as one of eight projects nationwide to be awarded a $75,000 History of Equal Rights Grant. The funds will be used to preserve the Detroit Association of Colored Women’s Club headquarters, commonly known as the Detroit Association of Women’s Club. 

The clubhouse is a significant part of Detroit’s Black history, according to Janese Chapman, director of the Historic Designation Advisory Board. Eight Black women’s clubs came together in 1921 to form the Detroit Association of Colored Women’s Clubs in order to address social and welfare issues.

Grant funding symbol. (Credit: AdobeStock)

The club is “one of the oldest continuing Women’s clubs in Detroit,” Chapman said, The Detroit News reports.

Rosa Slade Gragg, a prominent civil rights activist and club president, was instrumental in the 1941 purchase of a building originally constructed in 1913 as a home for William Lennane. 

Gragg advised three U.S. presidents (Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson) during her activism during the 1950s and 1960s. After being elected president of the National Association of Colored Women in 1958, she launched a campaign to save the Frederick Douglass house in Washington, D.C.

Chapman recalled how the Detroit Association of Colored Women’s Clubs obtained the building despite racially restrictive property laws.

“At the time they were looking to acquire a clubhouse, Black people could not live on Ferry Street between the Woodward and John R,” said Chapman, according to The Detroit News. “So … they had the address changed. There was originally an address on Ferry Street, and they changed the address and moved it around the corner to the address on (Brush Street) so they could buy the property.”

There is still a visible entrance on Ferry Street that was closed off by club members.

As part of the preservation effort, a historic structures report will be prepared for the building, and the site will be nominated to the National Register of Historic Places, according to The Detroit News. This grant is funded by the federal Historic Preservation Fund, which preserves historical sites related to equal rights movements in the United States.

Champagne said the grant is Detroit’s first since the History of Equal Rights program was established in the 1970s. 

“The grant itself is basically to bring (the National Parks Service) to align with the history of all America,” said Chapman. 

“The National Park Service, what they have been doing and what they strive to do, is to make sure that the history of America is being told particularly from the point of view of underrepresented folks (and) communities,” Chapman added.

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