Press Release | Memphis, Tennessee | October 25, 2017

Leading National Preservation Group Announces Plans to Enhance Historic Site of the Civil Rights Movement

Clayborn Temple named a ‘National Treasure’ and accepted into sacred places fund

Today the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Clayborn Temple to its National Treasures portfolio and announced plans to help rehabilitate the nationally-significant historic site. The National Trust, in cooperation with local partners, will assist in identifying future uses for the building, commemorate its unique history and help ensure that it has a sustainable future.

“The labor and race issues that marchers at Clayborn Temple fought for persist today, from football fields to company boardrooms.” said David Brown, executive vice president and chief preservation officer of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “Now more than ever, we are called to honor the stories of the many diverse people who sacrificed and achieved to make the world a better place for us all—and to tell the full American story in an inclusive way. Clayborn Temple gives us that opportunity and we are proud to include this important site among our portfolio of National Treasures.

Clayborn Temple’s story is one forever associated with the Civil Rights Movement. In March 1968, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led 15,000 marchers 1.3 miles from Clayborn Temple to Memphis City Hall, rioting erupted. Marchers retreated to Clayborn, where police stormed the sanctuary. When King returned days later, determined to lead a peaceful march, he was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel on April 4.

Clayborn Temple joins a portfolio of 88 National Treasure sites that includes the Houston Astrodome, Nashville’s Music Row, and the A.G. Gaston Motel. To support the rehabilitation and reuse of Clayborn Temple, the National Trust will work with local operating partner Clayborn Reborn to accomplish the following preservation goals:

  • Create an ownership and financial structure for the building.
  • Develop and implement reuse and interpretation plans that reflect the historic site’s legacy
  • Build national awareness of Clayborn Temple and Memphis’ role in transforming the Civil Rights Movement into a struggle for economic and social justice.

“One of our major goals in restoring Clayborn Temple has always been to bring due attention to the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers' Strike, a chapter in American history too often overlooked and largely forgotten,” Rob Thompson, executive director of Clayborn Reborn. “Being designated a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation is an incredible honor, not to our restoration efforts but to the conviction and courage of the Memphis Sanitation Workers who risked everything and gave Clayborn Temple its international significance. We are thrilled to partner with the National Trust and grateful for their investment in this worthwhile restoration project.”

The National Trust has also accepted Clayborn Temple into the National Fund for Sacred Places, a grant-making program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Partners for Sacred Places that was launched last year with grants totaling $14 million from the Indiana-based Lilly Endowment Inc. Clayborn Temple is one of 17 congregations out of 220 applicants nationwide to be recognized to participate in this national historic preservation program that will offer planning grants, professional services, and capital grants ranging from $50,000 to $250,000 to a minimum of 50 congregations across the country over four years. About the National Fund for Sacred Places, Brown added, “Clayborn Temple represents not only Memphis and America’s complex past but also the promise of turning historic sites back into vital community resources. We are delighted to include Clayborn Temple in this prestigious program and to help this pivotal site in our country’s history realize a bright and long-term future.”

More information can be found at:


Suggested tweet: Clayborn Temple named a ‘National Treasure’ by @savingplaces and accepted into the National Fund for Sacred Places

About the National Fund for Sacred Places

The National Fund for Sacred Places is a Philadelphia-based grant-making program of Partners for Sacred Places and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.


The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded nonprofit organization, works to save America’s historic places. | @savingplaces

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