The Pentecostal church on the South Side of Chicago that served as the backdrop for the catalytic 1955 funeral of slain civil rights icon Emmett Till. A Black-owned and -operated Oklahoma filling station that stood as the sole business of its kind along Route 66 during the Jim Crow era. The (currently dilapidated) Pittsburgh home that was once headquarters of the nation’s first African-American opera company. The former living quarters of poet and playwright Langston Hughes at Cleveland’s famed Karamu House theater. These four sites represent just a modest handful of the dozens of Black historic landmarks and conservation-minded organizations to be named as 2021 grantees of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.
The fourth iteration of the $50 million grant program, originally established in 2017 in the wake of the deadly Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, marks the largest disbursement to date for the Action Fund. A total of $3 million will be shared between 40 different sites and organizations, rural and urban, stretching beyond the confines of the continental United States from Seattle to San Juan, Denver to Washington, D.C., St. Louis to St. Simon’s, Georgia. Last year, a total of 27 sites and organizations that “draw attention to the remarkable stories that evoke centuries of African American activism and achievement, and to tell our nation’s full history,” per the National Trust, were awarded $1.6 million in funding. A total of $1 million and $1.6 million were awarded during the 2018 (16 sites and organizations) and 2019 (22 sites and organizations) funding rounds, respectively.
Including the just-announced grantees, 105 crucial yet often overlooked (and often endangered) Black historic sites have benefited from a total of $7.3 million in grants since the Action Fund, the largest historic preservation effort of its kind, launched.
“The Action Fund has become the largest resource in American history dedicated to the preservation of African American architectural landmarks,” said Lonnie Bunch, the first African American and first historian to serve in the role of Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, in a statement. “These grants will positively impact 40 communities nationwide and result in the creation of a visible, preserved legacy of African American contributions. Through the leadership of [executive director] Brent Leggs, the Fund is creating a lasting historical record, which demonstrates that African American narratives are integral to our nation and our shared future.”
As detailed by the National Trust, the Action Fund confidently sailed past its initial goal of $25 million by the end of last year thanks in part to the largesse of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the JPG Foundation, and others. This year, the Action Fund grew exponentially due to a $20 million grant from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott and her husband, Dan Jewett. (The National Trust was one of 286 organizations that split a total of $2.7 billion in grant money from the pair.) In addition to Scott, with the Mellon Foundation acting as lead funder, additional gifts this year came from the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust, former President and Mrs. George W. Bush, the Chapman Foundation, and an anonymous donation in memory of Ahmaud Arbery.
The 2021 African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund grantees are:
Alabama African American Civil Rights Consortium — Birmingham, Alabama
Save Harlem Now! — New York City
4theVille — St. Louis, Missouri
Houston Freedmen’s Town Conservancy — Houston
African American Heritage Trail of Martha’s Vineyard — West Tisbury, Massachusetts
Historic Athens — Athens, Georgia
Indiana Landmarks — Indianapolis
Black American West Museum and Heritage Center — Denver
Walnut Cove Colored School — Walnut Cove, North Carolina
City of Sacramento
Cherokee State Resort Historical Park — Hardin, Kentucky
Para la Naturaleza — San Juan, Puerto Rico
History Colorado — Denver
Fort Monroe Foundation — Fort Monroe, Virginia
Asbury United Methodist Church — Washington, D.C.
Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ — Chicago
Hotel Metropolitan Purple Room, City of Paducah — Paducah, Kentucky
The League of Women for Community Service — Boston
Sarah Rector Mansion — Kansas City, Missouri
Karamu House — Cleveland
Threatt Filling Station — Luther, Oklahoma
National Marian Anderson Historical Society and Museum — Philadelphia
New Granada Theater, Hill CDC — Pittsburgh
Huston-Tillotson University — Austin, Texas
Hampton University — Hampton, Virginia
Firestation 23, Byrd Barr Place — Seattle
Robbins Historical Society and Museum — Robbins, Illinois
Mount Zion Baptist Church — Athens, Ohio
People’s AME Zion Church,The People’s Community Development Corporation — Syracuse, New York
Hayti Heritage Center, St. Joseph’s Historic Foundation — Durham, North Carolina
Georgia B. Williams Nursing Home — Camilla, Georgia
North Carolina African American Heritage Commission – Raleigh, North Carolina
Montpelier Descendants Committee — Orange, Virginia
Prince Hall Masonic Lodge – Atlanta
Descendants of Olivewood Cemetery — Houston
Palmer Pharmacy Building, Bluegrass Trust for Historic Preservation — Lexington, Kentucky
Oakland Public Library — Oakland, California
Sapelo Island Cultural and Revitalization Society — Sapelo, Georgia
St. Simon’s African American Heritage Coalition — St. Simon’s, Georgia
National Negro Opera Company — Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
As in past funding rounds, grants were awarded across four different categories: Capacity building, project planning, capital, and programming and interpretation. You can learn more about the 2021 grantees as well as the sites and organizations awarded during the Action Fund’s previous disbursement cycles here.