A grant may be the saving grace for preserving historic Black churches 

The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Preserving Black Churches grant honors the legacy and contributions of Black churches in the U.S.

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The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Preserving Black Churches grant honors the legacy and contributions of Black churches in the U.S. (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Churches, specifically Black churches, have long been seen as community sanctuaries. However, a number of these religious establishments struggle to keep up with the inevitable maintenance costs that can mount over decades. To help alleviate the financial burden and keep these community beacons active, the National Trust for Historic Preservation launched a church grant under the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, a program “that makes an important and lasting contribution to the American landscape by preserving sites of African-American activism, achievement, and resilience.” 

“So far, our nation has prioritized the preservation of history associated with a small privileged group of Americans,” Brent Leggs, the executive director of the Action Fund, told Elle Decor. “Black heritage sites hold power and cultural memory and are examples that are all the more important at this moment in our history.”

Following the racially charged and violent “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, which killed three people and injured dozens, Leggs revealed the National Trust for Historic Preservation was inspired to create a program using “ the power of place and historic preservation to present to the public the full contributions of Black America to our nation.” 

While the action fund has helped preserve historic spaces like Emmett Tills’s childhood home, it has also conserved one the oldest congregations in Los Angeles built by Paul Revere Williams, the first Black member of the American Institute of Architects. This year, for its second round of grants, the organization will be assisting in the preservation of 31 Black churches across the nation through its “Preserving Black Churches program.” 

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With grants ranging from $50,000 to $200,000, the project is intended to help historic Black houses of worship regardless of whether they have an active congregation. These funds are distributed to help address urgent preservation threats like mold contamination, water damage, maintenance, plumbing issues, threats of demolition, etc. Ultimately, the fund’s mission is to help these churches continue to host and steward their congregations. 

“These places of worship, these sacred cultural centers, must exist for future generations to understand who we were as a people,” said Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., historian and adviser to the Action Fund in a press release, per Elle Decor. “They’re a living testament to the resilience of our ancestors in the face of unimaginably daunting challenges.”

This year’s recipients of the Preserving Black Churches grant include Big Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, which helped establish Morris Brown College, one of the first Black-owned and operated schools in Georgia. One of the oldest Black Protestant churches in New Orleans and pinnacle spaces for the civil rights movement, St. James AME Church is also a recipient of the 2024 Action Fund grant. To learn about all of the historical Black churches benefitting from the grant, click here. 

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