A new initiative to preserve historic Black churches has received a $20 million donation that will help congregations around the U.S.
Lilly Endowment Inc., an organization that supports various religious, education and charitable causes, donated money to the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund to go toward the Preserving Black Churches Project. Rather than simply updating the structures to keep them standing, the project provides assistance with things including assist management and helping historic churches tell their own stories, according to Brent Leggs, executive director of the fund.
In an interview, Leggs said that Black churches have been instrumental in the African American community through generations of faith and struggles, and preserving them isn’t just a brick-and-mortar issue but one of civil rights and racial justice.
The initiative was created by the National Trust for Historic Preservation after the “Unite the Right” rlly in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, as a way to “value the link between architecture and racial justice.” The fund has currently raised more than $70 million and has already assessed with more than 200 preservation projects.
“I think it is critically important to acknowledge that the nation may be rich in diverse history but it has often done a poor job in representing that history,” he said. “Historically Black churches deserve the same admiration and stewardship as the National Cathedral in Washington or New York’s Trinity Church.”
The project plans to assist more than 50 Black churches across the U.S. over the next several years, from churches that are completely vacant or set for demolition to ones that are struggling with low funding, declining membership and aging members. Active congregations remain the main priority, but Leggs said that some funding will go to old church buildings that are now home to community centers or treatment programs.
“It still stewards the legacy of the Black church but for a new purpose,” he said.