TOWNSEND — The National Trust for Historic Preservation's African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund announced its first round of Preserving Black Churches grants to historic Black churches across the U.S., for a total investment of $4 million on Jan. 16, Martin Luther King Day.
Ebenezer Methodist Church in Townsend was one of only 35 grantees out of 1,200 applicants for this round of funding and has received a grant of $75,000 to stabilize and begin restoration efforts.
Ebenezer Methodist Church historically served as both a church and a "Colored School" where ancestors of the present-day Lee Haven United Methodist Church community worshipped and attended.
This grant will help the Lee Haven congregation stabilize the old church and prevent its demolition, making it available to another generation as a visible representation of Black religious, educational, and social history in Delaware. Following social media alerts and advocacy by members of Preservation Delaware, members of Lee Haven Church and others have rallied to begin planning and fundraising to secure the future of this threatened chuck.
The Action Fund’s Preserving Black Churches program is a $20 million initiative funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. to help historic Black churches and congregations reimagine, redesign, and deploy historic preservation to protect the cultural assets and legacies they steward, tell their stories of resiliency and hope, and carry their missions into the future.
With more than $80 million in funding, the Action Fund is the largest U.S. resource dedicated to the preservation of African American historic places.
“Leaving an indelible imprint on our society, historic Black churches hold an enduring legacy of community, spirituality, and freedom that continues to span generations,” said Brent Leggs, executive director, African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund and senior vice president, National Trust for Historic Preservation.
“The Action Fund created the Preserving Black Churches program to recognize and celebrate the Black church for its contributions on American life, culture, and history, while also investing in their physical permanence and financial sustainment into the future. We are honored to award our first round of grantees with the resources needed to ensure the Black church continues to stand in its fullest glory.”
Since the nation was founded, the Black church has played a prominent role in advancing critical democratic and societal change. According to Pew Research Center, around three-quarters of Black adults say predominantly Black churches have helped advance the fight for racial equity.
“From one room praise houses to unprecedented metropolitan mega churches, Black churches since slavery times have been the heart and soul of the African American community,” said Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., professor, historian, filmmaker, and national advisory councilmember for the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.
“So, it is inspiring to see the Action Fund’s commitment to preserving their history and their physical structures. After all, these are our sacred sites, which our ancestors built from the ground up, and we must do everything we can to ensure their survival,” said Dr. Gates Jr. “Preserving these structures is a visible way of preserving a crucial chapter of Black History.”
Today Black churches are experiencing challenges like deferred maintenance, insufficient funds, and threats of demolition. With leadership support from Lilly Endowment Inc., Preserving Black Churches will advance strategies that model and strengthen stewardship and asset management, interpretation, and fundraising activities of historic Black churches across the country.
In addition to helping churches preserve their historic buildings, the program is designed to help congregations strengthen their capacities to serve the spiritual and social needs of their communities for years to come.
In addition to Ebenezer in Townsend, other first-round grantees include the following churches: First Bryan Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia, considered to be one of the oldest African American Baptist churches in the U.S.; Ohio’s Cory United Methodist Church where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X spoke in 1963-1964; St. Paul Christian Methodist Episcopal church located on the historic HBCU campus of Lane College in Jackson, Tennessee; and Manzanola United Methodist Church in Colorado built by 50 Black homesteaders in 1915, among others.
For more information on the Preserving Black Churches program, visit https://savingplaces.org/black-churches.