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Federal grants for church preservation include Alabama

Black Church Repair Grants
John Minchillo/AP
/
AP
An images of Harriet Tubman rests on a sill beside a cracked stained glass window at the Varick Memorial AME Zion Church, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. On Friday, a fund established to preserve historic Black churches in the United States formally revealed the first 35 houses of worship that will receive financial grants totaling $4 million. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

The National Trust for Historic Preservation's African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund is including Birmingham’s Sixteenth Avenue Baptist Church on a list for preservation grants. The group is including thirty five houses of worship to receive financial grants totaling $4 million dollars. Alabama’s Sixteenth Avenue Baptist Church was the site of crucial civil rights organizing meetings were held during Jim Crow segregation in the 1960s. It’s also where four Black girls were killed after a bombing by members of the Ku Klux Klan in 1963. The Fund launched its church program in 2021 to help support ongoing or planned restoration work at historic congregations that are caretakers for cultural artifacts and bear monumental legacies. Black churches in nearly every region of the U.S. are among the fund's first round of recipients receiving grants ranging from $50,000 to $200,000. The National Trust for Historic Preservation's African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund launched its "Preserving Black Churches" program in 2021 to help support ongoing or planned restoration work in historic congregations that are caretakers of cultural artifacts and bear monumental legacies. Some church renovations were imperiled or severely postponed three years ago after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, which reduced the capacity of many houses of worship to serve the public at an unprecedented time of need.

Many Black churches, both historic and modern, experience challenges related to deferred renovation, insufficient funds for regular maintenance and threats of demolition due to public hazards.

Since before the abolition of slavery, the Black church has been an epicenter for the cultural, social and educational pursuits of its members. The church has also played a role in brokering congregants' relationship to political power. It's not uncommon for politicians, most often Democrats, to campaign from Black church pulpits.

The action fund's other grantees include First Bryan Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia, which is considered to be one of the oldest Black Baptist churches in the U.S.; Cory United Methodist Church in Cleveland, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X spoke in 1963 and 1964; and St. Paul Christian Methodist Episcopal, a church located on the historically Black campus of Lane College in Jackson, Tennessee. The action fund's administrators said they received proposals for 1,266 Black churches across the U.S., with $189 million in total funds requested. The effort is supported by a $20 million seed donation received last year from the Lilly Endowment Inc., which supports religious, educational and charitable causes.

Pat Duggins is news director for Alabama Public Radio.
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