National Trust for Historic Preservation Awards $1.6 Million in Grants to Organizations Dedicated to Uncovering Untold Stories and Preserving Black History
Recipients of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund’s Second Year of Funding Includes Sites Associated with W.E.B. DuBois, Harriet Tubman, and the Reconstruction Era
Today, at the 25th annual Essence Festival in New Orleans, the National Trust for Historic Preservation announced more than $1.6 million in grants to 22 sites and organizations through its African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund (Action Fund). Now in its second year, the Action Fund has granted a total of $2.7 million since its launch in November of 2017.
In his announcement from Center Stage at this year’s Essence Festival, Brent Leggs, executive director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, underscored the importance of this work, noting, “The recipients of this funding shine a light on once lived stories and Black culture, some familiar and some yet untold, that weave together the complex story of American history in the United States.”
The Action Fund is a $25 million multi-year national initiative aimed at uplifting the largely overlooked contributions of African Americans by protecting and restoring African American historic sites and uncovering hidden stories of African Americans connected to historic sites across the nation. This year’s awardees include the home of Negro League Baseball phenom Satchel Paige; the Emmett Till Memorial Commission; ‘The Forum’ in Chicago’s Bronzeville; and more.
This year’s funds, provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, were awarded to key places and organizations that help the Action Fund achieve its mission of protecting, restoring, and interpreting African American historic sites and uncovering hidden narratives of African Americans and their contribution to the American story. Grants are given across four categories: capacity building, project planning, capital, and programming and interpretation.
“Beyond saving important African American heritage sites, the Action Fund is helping Americans understand more deeply who we are as a nation,” remarked Mellon Foundation President Elizabeth Alexander. “We applaud the ongoing work of the Action Fund in calling greater attention to the diversity of American history and lifting up narratives that have been too long neglected or forgotten.”
External review for grant applications was provided by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History and the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University.
2019 Grant Recipients
listed in alphabetical order
- African Meeting House and Abiel Smith School (Museum of African American History) – Boston, MA. The oldest extant black church in America was built in 1806 as a gathering place central to the abolitionist movement, early legal battles for education equity, and other struggles for justice. Today, it inspires all generations to embrace and interpret the authentic stories of New Englanders of African descent. Designed by architect Richard Upjohn and constructed in 1835, the school was the first public education facility for free Black children in Boston.
- Alabama Historical Commission – statewide, AL. The Alabama Black Heritage Council is the only statewide organization in Alabama with the mission to preserve African American historic places. Celebrating its 35th anniversary this year, the organization supports communities to interpret, document, and preserve the diverse stories and places across the state.
- Clinton A.M.E. Zion Church – Great Barrington, MA. The first Black church in W.E.B. Du Bois’ hometown has been described as a “crucible” for the NAACP co-founder and civil rights trailblazer. Now vacant, this unassuming wood frame church also carries the legacies of religious and cultural heritage for African Americans in 19th- and 20th-century rural New England.
- Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church – Charleston, SC. This pillar of Charleston’s African American community, built in 1891, was the tragic scene of the racially motivated 2015 shooting of nine Black parishioners. The Gothic-style church, which is still in use but in need of major structural repairs, hosts the oldest African Methodist Episcopal congregation south of Baltimore.
- Emmett Till Interpretive Center (Emmett Till Memorial Commission) – Sumner, MS. The Center, located in the Tallahatchie County Courthouse, interprets Emmett Till’s murder and the courageous response by his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley. Her sacrifice and heroism in the face of tragedy ignited the Civil Rights Movement and was a calling cry for racial justice.
- Explored Landscapes of Afro-Virginia (Virginia Humanities) – statewide, VA. Virginia Humanities will establish and staff a statewide African American historic preservation advocacy and resource team to expand interpretation of the historic places and people affiliated with African American life in rural and urban Virginia.
- The Forum (Urban Juncture Foundation) – Chicago, IL. As the oldest community meeting and performance hall in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, the Forum has been vacant for nearly twenty years and was an essential gathering place for the artistic and cultural leaders like Nat King Cole and B.B. King who drove the Chicago Black Renaissance of the early 20th century.
- God’s Little Acre (The Preservation Society of Newport County) – Newport, RI. The largest and most intact Colonial-era African burial ground in the country, where the story of slavery and the European Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade is told, brings life to the stories of creative survival and perseverance by the first Africans of Newport.
- Harriet Tubman Home – Auburn, NY. In 1857 the famed abolitionist and freedom fighter Harriet Tubman purchased this homestead, now the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park. The historic site documents over 50 years of Tubman’s work and comprises three properties: a home for the aged, infirmary, and Tubman’s residence.
- Historic Evergreen Cemetery (Enrichmond Foundation) – Richmond, VA. The overgrown Historic Evergreen Cemetery is the final resting place of business executives and political activists Maggie L. Walker and John Mitchell, Jr. and currently serves descendant families and the general public as a memorial park, historic site, and 60-acre monument to African American resilience and achievement from the Civil War era through the early 21st century.
- Historic Westside Las Vegas (Nevada Preservation Foundation) – Las Vegas, NV. The Historic Westside Las Vegas is an African American segregation-era community that experienced substantial disinvestment after national desegregation efforts. While locally recognized as historically significant, none of the area’s historic districts have been nominated and no complete survey of the full Historic Westside has yet been undertaken.
- Hutchinson House (Edisto Island Open Land Trust) – Edisto Island, SC. Currently in a state of deterioration, this rare, intact freedman’s home was built by Henry Hutchinson, son of the formerly enslaved Union soldier James Hutchinson, as a wedding gift for his wife Rosa Swinton. The home is part of a collection of 14 properties on Edisto Island that tell the stories of African Americans and Gullah Geechee culture between the 17th and 19th centuries, including during the Reconstruction period.
- Langston Hughes House (I, Too, Arts Collective) – Harlem, New York, NY. Langston Hughes, one of the foremost figures of the Harlem Renaissance, spent the last 20 years of his life at this Harlem brownstone. The home is emerging as a community space that empowers artists and writers to create new works through a diverse array of programming opportunities.
- McGee Avenue Baptist Church, Stuart Street Apartments (Bay Area Community Land Trust) – Berkeley, CA. Established in 1918 as the first African American Baptist church community in the area, this church moved to its McGee Avenue location in 1933. The church aims to transform its Stuart Street Apartments into an affordable housing co-op that will empower one of the oldest African American communities in Berkeley to preserve cultural heritage through housing.
- Morris Brown College’s Fountain Hall (Association for the Study of African American Life and History - Atlanta Branch) – Atlanta, GA. With its distinctive tower situated at the top of Atlanta’s “Diamond Hill,” Fountain Hall housed W.E.B. Du Bois’ office, where he wrote his seminal work The Souls of Black Folk. Located on Atlanta’s Westside, this vacant and deteriorating building is the oldest surviving building associated to Atlanta University, one of the first Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the South.
- Oregon Black Pioneers Corporation – statewide, OR. The twenty-six year old organization is dedicated to preserving the history of African Americans in the state, telling stories often elusive in traditional narratives and educating the public through research, oral presentations, exhibits, and publications.
- Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice – Durham, NC. In addition to supporting the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray, a 20th-century African American human rights activist, lawyer, feminist, poet, Episcopal priest, and member of the LGBTQ community, this home is located in a historically working-class, African American community and is being restored in her honor.
- Satchel Paige House (Historic Kansas City Foundation) – Kansas City, MO. In 2018, a fire critically compromised the home of famed Negro League pitcher and National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Satchel Paige. The home is now in need of stabilization and planning for its future use.
- South Carolina African American Heritage Commission– statewide, SC. Recently celebrating its 25th anniversary, this commission supports statewide efforts to promote and preserve sites of African American history across South Carolina. The organization seeks to develop financially sustainable approaches to preserve and increase its public engagement.
- Texas Endangered Historic Black Settlements & Cemeteries (Texas Freedom Colonies Project) – statewide, TX. Formerly enslaved people established Freedom Colonies after the Civil War to create once flourishing and self-sufficient communities. The colonies’ historically significant cemeteries, landscapes, and buildings are unrecognized and contain unrecorded heritage.
- Treme Neighborhood Revival Grants Program (Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans) – New Orleans, LA. New Orleans’ Treme neighborhood is considered one of the oldest African American neighborhoods in the country, but a rapid rise in real estate values has put long-time residents at risk. This microgrants programs will enable homeowners to maintain and make preservation-friendly repairs to their homes.
- Wright Building (Greater Union Life Center, Inc.) – DeLand, FL. Built in 1920, the building served as a grocery and general store for African Americans in segregated Florida. Black-owned business pioneer James Wright, who had ties to Booker T. Washington, empowered local black entrepreneurs by leasing retail spaces on the second floor. The building will soon be restored to its original purpose of fostering economic development for the Black community
The African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund is a multi-year initiative led by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in partnership with the Ford Foundation, The JPB Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Open Society Foundations and other partners, working to make an important and lasting contribution to our cultural landscape by elevating the stories and places of African American achievement and activism. savingplaces.org/actionfund