5 for 5: African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund Sites You Should Know More About
The African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund recently marked its fifth anniversary, celebrating its mission of preserving sites of African American activism, achievement, and resilience. Since launching the program in 2017, the Action Fund has raised more than $80M, becoming the largest fund dedicated solely to the protection of African American historic places. Thanks to partnerships with the Ford Foundation, Mellon, JPB, Lilly Foundation, and other national funders, the Action Fund has invested in 195 grantees, supported more than 200 preservation projects nationwide, and established a $14 million endowment to continue the national leadership work of the Action Fund.
To understand the full impact of the program we are highlighting five lesser-known grantees—one for each year of the Action Fund. “These five sites,” Brent Leggs, executive director of the Action Fund said, “steward many untold stories and places of cultural heritage. The Action Fund was thrilled to help protect and recognize these assets and histories for their role in shaping our American history. We will continue our work with preservationists nationwide to uplift Black life, ideals, and legacy.”
2018: Mountain View Officers' Club (Fort Huachuca, Arizona)
Constructed in 1942 by Del Webb—and an example of World War II mobilization architecture—the Mountain View Officers' Club was one of the few military service clubs for Black officers in the United States. Based at Fort Huachuca in Arizona, it was the former headquarters of the famous “Buffalo Soldiers” elite Black Army cavalry corps.
In 2013, the Mountain View Officers' Club sat vacant and in danger of being demolished and was placed on the National Trust’s list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. Five years later, as part of the inaugural list of grantees, the Action Fund awarded Mountain View funds to create a plan for the Army’s reuse of the club and its surrounding area. A recent agreement ensures that this structure—important for its association with WWII Black American military personnel stationed at Fort Huachuca during racial segregation—will continue to have its history interpreted and shared.
2019: Wright Building (DeLand, Florida)
Named for James Wright, a local Black businessman, the 1920 Wright Building is a testament to entrepreneurship and community investment. Wright operated a grocery/general store and empowered other Black entrepreneurs by leasing the building’s retail spaces. In the 1920s and '30s, he created exhibits at county fairs featuring Black success stories with educator and activist Mary McLeod Bethune, and was invited to speak by Booker T. Washington.
Shuttered and vacant for almost twenty years, the Action Fund grant was used to repair the Wright Building’s roof spurring the City of DeLand to plan for the creation of a historic district and an upgrade of its streetscape.
Through efforts spearheaded by the Greater Union Life Center, Inc., the brick building’s restoration has promoted its use as a community and social hub, restored once more to its original purpose of fostering economic development for the Black community.
2020: Omaha Star (Omaha, Nebraska)
Still in operation, the Omaha Star is Nebraska’s largest Black newspaper. In 1938, journalist Mildred Brown purchased the 1922 building and founded the Omaha Star Publishing Company, where Brown and her staff were dedicated to positive journalism that helped to advance economic possibilities, speak out against injustices against the community, and champion equality and peace.
A 2020 Action Fund grant helped to fund the stabilization of the one-story, brick vernacular building’s exterior and repair weather-and moisture-related damage. The Omaha Star building tells the story of Black women journalists like Brown, as well as the story of Black activism and advocacy in one of the least racially and economically inclusive cities in the United States.
2021: Karamu House (Cleveland, Ohio)
The oldest producing Black American theater in the nation, Cleveland’s Karamu House saw the arts as a common ground when it opened in 1915 and provided an artistic haven for the Black community. Renowned poet Langston Hughes spent time at its settlement house in his late teens, where he wrote and debuted his first play at the theater in 1921. He continued to return to Karamu, staying in the residential suite of its 1949 facility.
A 2021 Action Fund grant provided for the suite’s rehabilitation and reimagining as a place for a new generation of Black American creatives to stay and be inspired.
2022: Eldorado Ballroom (Houston, Texas)
Located in Houston’s Third Ward across from Emancipation Park, the historic 1939 Art Deco- and International-style Eldorado Ballroom was listed in the Green Book as a “must visit” site. Performers such as Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, and Ray Charles graced its stage. The community used its space for social gatherings as shoppers patronized the first-floor retail stores and services unavailable to them due to segregation.
In 2022, an Action Fund grant was awarded for the restoration of the ballroom’s original Art Moderne-style windows. Once the rehabilitation project is completed, the Eldorado will become a gathering place and anchor for the neighborhood’s revitalization.
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