Asbury United Methodist Church, Washington, DC

photo by: Kelly Paras

Preserving Black Churches

A Project of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund

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.

To preserve and uplift America’s historic places, Lilly Endowment Inc. and the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund are investing in a $20 million initiative to help historic Black churches and congregations reimagine, redesign, and redeploy historic preservation to address the institutions’ needs and the cultural assets and stories they steward.

Grants from Preserving Black Churches are intended to preserve historic Black houses of worship (with either active or non-active congregations) and advance ongoing preservation activities. With grants ranging from $50,000 to $200,000, the funding will strengthen capacity for historic congregations, preservation organizations, and community groups to better steward, manage, and use their historic structures.

How We Are Preserving Black Churches’ Legacy

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.

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 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.

Rescuing Two Iconic Black Churches in Kentucky

In addition, this program will:

  • Establish a national grant fund to provide direct investment to Black churches for capital projects, planning, programming and interpretation, operations and financial sustainability.
  • Provide Rapid Response-Emergency Grants to address urgent needs to access financial support that will help mitigate insufficient funding and closures from unforeseen fire damage, arson, water infiltration, tornadoes, natural disasters, and other issues.
  • Co-develop preservation campaigns, model innovative stewardship models, and build capacity in partnership with five Black Churches serving as sites of social justice and civil rights in Alabama and nationally.
  • Amplify and promote 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 social justice endures.

“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 Advisor of African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund

Independent of the Action Fund’s Preserving Black Churches, the National Fund for Sacred Places was launched in 2016 and also made possible by $40 million from the Indiana-based Lilly Endowment Inc. The National Fund for Sacred Places is a program of Partners for Sacred Places in collaboration with the National Trust. It provides financial and technical support for community-serving historic houses of worship across America, including capital grants up to $500,000.