Millions for Church Preservation
At the very center of meaningful progress on civil rights and reform in America, the Black Church remains an institution with unmatched historical and cultural significance. In his book, The Black Church, Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. writes, “No pillar of the African American community has been more central to its history, identity, and social justice vision than the ‘Black Church.’”
To honor and protect this legacy, the National Trust’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund (AACHAF) has invested $4 million in grants to 35 historic Black churches that represent the institution’s impact on American society. This Action Fund gift—its largest to date—helps ensure that historic Black churches across the country continue to drive change in our society.
The Positive Community, with our mission to disseminate “Good News from the Church and the Community” through our various platforms, keeps the local community aware of the important role the Black Church continues to play.
“Despite the central role these historic houses of worship play in the fabric of Black communities,” Brent Leggs, executive director of AACHAF, explained, “they face a myriad of challenges. Their preservation—like that of all Black heritage sites—has often been overlooked and vastly underfunded.” Leggs recently announced the receipt of a $20 million grant from the Lilly Endowment to launch the Preserving Black Churches Project, “So they can continue to serve as the epicenters of Black communities and American heritage.”
The first round of the grant program enables recipients to not only address real and urgent preservation threats such as deferred maintenance and demolition, but also strengthens their ability to steward, interpret, and fund these invaluable places and the people they serve.
Local Churches Receiving Grants
One of the churches to receive a grant is Mother AME Zion Church at 140 W 137th St. in Harlem. With congregations dating back to 1774—operating today in a building designed by African American architect George Washington Foster Jr.—Mother AME Zion is a center of community activity. The AME Zion conference was referred to nationally as the “Freedom Church” for its vital role in the United States abolitionist movement, and as an Underground Railroad refuge. This grant will seed investment for a new endowment to help the church congregation set a more sustainable funding model for the future preservation of its landmark.
Historic Varick Memorial AME Zion Church at 806 Quincy St., the oldest continuous Black congregation in Brooklyn, boasts more than two centuries of history, impact, and heritage; yet the building has been uninhabitable since 2020. This grant will support critical restoration for the building’s envelope, making it accessible once more to the active congregation and helping the church revive its high-impact community programs.
The African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund is a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and works in partnership with the Ford Foundation, the JPB Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and others to make an important and lasting contribution to our nation’s cultural landscape by elevating the stories and places of African American achievement and activism.
The Lilly Endowment was founded in 1937 by J.K. Lilly Sr. and his sons Eli and J.K. Jr. for the “promotion and support of religious, educational or charitable purposes.” Throughout its history, the Endowment has sought to nurture the human spirit, intellect, and character. Visit https://lillyendowment.org/