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National Trust for Historic Preservation sends grants to 40 African American landmarks

Recipients include the church that held Emmett Till’s funeral and Marian Anderson’s home

The National Trust for Historic Preservation announced Thursday that it is distributing $3 million in grants to 40 different African American landmarks across the country.

The grants are designed “to help expand the American story and to honor the full contribution of African Americans in American history,” said Brent Leggs, executive director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, the trust program responsible for the grants.

The money funds a range of activities, from a heritage-based entrepreneurial training program for Gullah Geechee residents in Georgia to span the country from St. Simons to the preservation of Langston Hughes’ former apartment at the Karamu House Theatre in Cleveland. Leggs cited two that he is especially proud to have on the list.

The Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ in Chicago, where the 1955 funeral for Emmett Till was held, will use its grant to complete a stabilization project for the building erected in 1922.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

“There’s Roberts Temple, in Chicago. This is the site of Emmett Till’s funeral in 1955, and this building represents the … self-determination of his mother, Mamie Till Mobley, who held an open casket funeral, and as a result, that was a catalytic moment in the American civil rights movement in a moment that shook the soul of our nation,” he said. “I am really proud that Robert Temple is on our list and that we get to increase the recognition of Mamie Till and civil rights.

“Another place I think is really special is the Marian Anderson House in Philadelphia. Marian Anderson transcended the constraints placed on Black female performers in the mid-20th century, to become the voice of the American civil rights movement. That moment when she sang on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial was another catalytic moment,” Leggs said. “Through the Action Fund, we’re committed to elevating the significance and contributions that Black women have made to our nation.”

The Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ will use its grant to complete a stabilization project for the building erected in 1922. The Marian Anderson House will spend its money to address deferred maintenance on the museum’s exterior and to improve safety issues inside the building.

Some of the other recipients include the Mount Zion Baptist Church in Athens, Ohio. It is the last remaining Black-owned and Black-built historic building along the Southeastern Ohio River Valley’s Underground Railroad corridor, and the African American Museum and Library in Oakland, which needs structural repairs to protect its collection of documents related to African Americans in California and the West.

The Action Fund was established in 2017 in response to the violent white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, protesting the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Since its creation, the fund has given $7.3 million in support to 105 places. Thursday’s announcement was the largest group of grants in the program’s short history.

“I’ve been working at the National Trust since 2005 and dedicated my entire career to helping communities preserve African American historic places,” Leggs said. “So, I’ve been building towards this personally, and just honored to work at an institution like the National Trust that has created space for African American professionals to lead and to help innovate the field.”

The Black American West Museum and Heritage Center in Denver will receive grants, which are designed “to help expand the American story and to honor the full contribution of African Americans in American history,” said Brent Leggs, executive director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.

Cyrus McCrimmon/The Denver Post via Getty Images

“We will continue to be ambitious, and set a bold agenda for a nation, using the Action Fund to build a national ethic for the preservation of Black culture and Black history,” Leggs said.

This year the fund received a $20 million grant from philanthropists MacKenzie Scott and Dan Jewett. On top of $30 million raised previously, mainly from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Ford Foundation, the fund is now the largest preservation organization dedicated to African American architectural landmarks.

Cayla Sweazie, a senior multimedia journalism student and student-athlete with Morgan State’s softball team, is from Ashburn, Va. She is a contributing writer for The Spokesman, Morgan State’s student newspaper, and is on the masthead of the digital Unapologetic & Pure Magazine, a site by young journalists for young readers.