June 12, 2024

Finding Black Joy in the Power of Place

This Juneteenth Explore Black Joy with the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.

Black Joy means many different things to many different people. It can be about freedom, resistance, and survival, but it can also be about achievement, inspiration, and revival. It is about understanding that when we talk about telling our nation’s full history it is not just the narrative of a march from slavery to the ending of Jim Crow. Black Joy comes from the history of people and places in that narrative, those who lived, worked, and dreamed in spite of, rather than because of, events beyond their control.

Black Joy is a feeling. It is family. It is love.

As Brent Leggs, executive director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund and senior vice president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation said, “An ethos and core belief that I have had is that preserving Black history is an act of radical love and joy. Everyday, I see so much joy and love in the local communities as they successfully protect our cultural legacy. “

As we commemorate the 2024 Juneteenth holiday—the day in 1865 when Union Army General Granger issued General Order No. 3 ordering the freedom of over 250,000 enslaved people in Texas—the staff of the Action Fund share stories of people and places connected to Black Joy.

Black Joy is Perseverance

Lawana Holland Moore, Director, Fellowships & Interpretative Strategies

The Hutchinson House.

photo by: Leslie Ryann McKellar

Exterior of the Hutchinson House.

“For me, Black joy is represented at the Hutchinson House, the oldest house in Edisto Island, SC. Built by Henry Hutchinson in 1885 for his new bride Rosa, it sheltered not only their family, but 50 of their neighbors during the deadly Sea Islands Hurricane of 1893.

It is a testament to love, to family, and to the spirit of entrepreneurship and perseverance. So often, the focus of our stories are pain and struggle, but while there inside the house among the cool breezes on a summer day, you can imagine laughter and warmth. That happiness is a part of our story too.”

Black Joy is Freedom of Expression

Melissa Jest, Senior Manager, Preservation Projects

Streetview of a brick home in NE Oklahoma City.

photo by: Google Streetview

Exterior of the Lyons Luster House in Oklahoma City in March 2024.

“Black Joy comes in the form of a story. The story told by Mrs. Frank Melvin Luster III at the 2024 Main Street Now Conference where she recalled the laughter and live music that flowed from the music clubs near her family home, the Lyons Luster Mansion in Oklahoma City. It is both heartening, and comforting to know that Black folks in Oklahoma were free to express and experience such joy less than two generations after Emancipation.

Mrs. Luster travelled to the conference in Birmingham, Alabama to share her memories and to present Black Joy as a resource we must cultivate in our preservation work. She is one of several stakeholders who participated in the Action Fund feasibility study of the Lyons Luster Mansion and another NE Oklahoma City asset, the Brockway Center. Mrs. Luster said she is committed to ensuring that the African Americans who lived, volunteered, and worked in the historic buildings are recognized and celebrated.”

Black Joy Is Fellowship

Leslie Canaan, Senior Manager, Preserving Black Churches Project

“First Missionary Baptist Church is in Thomasville, Georgia, was originally constructed by formerly enslaved congregants between 1890 and 1900, and in January 2024 they received a Preserving Black Churches grant to repair their roof. It was always our hope that churches would reach out to each other to help and support each other, and the ink had barely dried on their grant agreement before Pastor Jeremy Rich contacted me about how they could help other churches gain access to the benefits they had received.

The result was an all-day session with the Action Fund, Thomasville Landmarks, Georgia African American Historic Preservation Network, and Eric Menninger (a consultant who focuses on HSR’s). Thirty churches attended, and they walked away with the understanding that protecting the historic fabric of their building was important and the knowledge of the available resources to do that work.

Watching a Black church using a gift they have been given and using it to give that gift so many times over to other congregations and watching the inspiration, knowledge, and fellowship it brings…this is the height of Black Joy to me.”

First Missionary Baptist Church Thomasville, Georgia

photo by: Pastor Jeremy Rich

Black Joy is Community

Morgan Forde, Editorial Consultant

Nina Simone Childhood Home, Tryon, North Carolina

photo by: Nina Simone Childhood Home | Nancy Pierce

Exterior of the Nina Simone house.

"For me, Juneteenth is about celebrating the strength we can find in community. The first Action Fund site I had the chance to visit was Nina Simone’s Childhood Home in Tryon, North Carolina. I grew up with her music, but getting the chance to walk through the yard where she played, the house where she slept alongside her family, and the church where she first fell in love with music, was a powerful reminder of how place and community can shape so much of who we are.

Simone’s roots in the South and in the Black church come through in her music, her activism, and her own invocations of Black joy and excellence throughout her career. I am excited for the future of her home in Tryon, as the Action Fund works hand-in-hand with the local community to preserve her legacy and enable it to be a place of inspiration, rest, and artistic expression for future generations."

Black Joy is Healing

Brandon Bibby, Senior Preservation Architect

John and Alice Coltrane Home

photo by: Joshua Scott

"Joy, both in laughter and tears, is one of the most transformational emotions we can experience. I think of joy as the permanence of happiness, which is why the phrase 'you can't steal our joy' is such a powerful statement. Joy is affirmation and a state of being that allows for healing and liberation.

The John and Alice Coltrane home in Dix Hills embodies the Black Joy that brings growth and healing. It represents the collective healing of a family who, through spirituality, found solace in a time of loss. Joy takes time and must be nurtured. This home nurtured a family of musicians, generations of Black creative geniuses that continue to inspire and heal the world through their art."

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While her day job is the associate director of content at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Priya spends other waking moments musing, writing, and learning about how the public engages and embraces history.

Join us in protecting and restoring places where significant African American history happened.

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