16th Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama

photo by: Marc Sandlin

Preserving Black Churches

A Project of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund

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As the oldest institutions created and controlled by African Americans, Black churches are a living testament to the achievements and resiliency of generations in the face of a racialized and inequitable society.

From the African Meeting House in Boston where William Lloyd Garrison founded the New England Anti-Slavery Society in 1832; to the St. Luke C.M.E. Church in Tryon, North Carolina, where Nina Simone began her musical career as a young girl in the 1930s; to Memphis’ Clayborn Temple where Civil Rights activists organized and created the iconic “I AM A MAN” signs during the Sanitation Workers’ Strike of 1968, Black churches have stood at the center of the African American experience.

Now, in this period of reckoning with racial and economic injustice, the Lilly Endowment Inc. and the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund are investing in historic Black churches and congregations to reimagine, redesign, and redeploy historic preservation to address the institutions’ needs and the cultural assets and stories they steward. Together, we are leveraging historic preservation as a tool for equity and reconciliation and celebrating historic Black churches as centers of heritage, community, and cultural life.

How We Are Preserving Black Churches’ Legacy

Foundational to Black religious, political, economic, and social life, Black churches continue to inform and shape Black identity today. They serve as houses of worship as well as safe havens, social centers, and cultural repositories, and provide vital social services and spaces that uplift their communities.

Yet despite their central role, these historic houses of worship face myriad challenges—from insufficient funding and deferred maintenance, to aging congregations and threats of demolition.

Preserving Black Churches, a new $20 million initiative, offers a national strategy for historic Black churches that are both stewarded by active congregations and being repurposed for new uses in local communities. With leadership support from Lilly Endowment, Inc, Preserving Black Churches will advance strategies that model and strengthen stewardship and asset management, interpretation and programming, and fundraising activities of historic Black churches across the country.

In addition, this program will:

  • Establish a new national grant fund to provide direct funding to Black churches for capital, staffing, and operations
  • Create a Rapid Response & Emergency Grant Fund to address imminent threats to Black churches
  • Provide targeted assistance and support to Black Churches serving as sites of conscience, memory, justice, and reconciliation
  • Model innovative stewardship and build capacity for Alabama’s Civil Rights Churches
  • Amplify historic Black churches through digital documentation, storytelling, and media relations

In these ways, Preserving Black Churches will uplift these often-overlooked places and ensure that the Black churches’ legacy of spirituality, history, and democracy endures. Have questions? Please email them to blackchurches@savingplaces.org.

“No pillar of the African American community has been more central to its history, identity, and social justice vision than the ‘Black Church.’”

Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Professor, Historian, Filmmaker, and Lead Advisor of Preserving Black Churches

Independent of the Action Fund’s Preserving Black Churches, the National Fund for Sacred Places was launched in 2016 and also made possible by $20 million from the Indiana-based Lilly Endowment Inc. Through the National Fund for Sacred Places, and in collaboration with Partners for Sacred Places, the National Trust provides preservation expertise and capital grants up to $250,000 to help congregations restore and preserve historic houses of worship across America.

Share your email with us and be among the first to know when Preserving Black Churches grants open for applications.

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Learn more about the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.

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