An initiative to preserve historic Black churches across the country received a $20 million donation on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The large donation was made by Lilly Endowment Inc. a philanthropic organization supporting religious and educational endeavors, and went toward the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund (AACHAF).
From slavery though the civil rights movement, Black churches were one of the few safe heavens for Black Americans. They served as community centers, provided a safe place for Black children, and were employment hubs and meeting spaces to plan and outline civil rights actions including protests and sit-ins.
“The centerpiece of Black communities starts with the Black church,” Brent Leggs, the executive of the AACHAF, said in an interview with ABC News. “Black churches are exceptionally important in American democracy, not only for their legacy in civil and human rights, but also for their role in uplifting civic identity and community empowerment.”
The announcement of the donation was made to coincide with King’s birthday.
According to Leggs, St. James AME Church, which was founded in Kentucky three years after the Civil War, will be the first recipient of the donated funds. The church will receive $100,000 to repair damages made by recent tornadoes in the state.
The Preserving Black Churches Project will assist more than 50 Black churches across the country over the next three years including ones that are vacant, slated for demolition, or struggling with funding due to dwindling membership.
Also helping is the National Fund for Sacred Places. Launched in 2016 with nearly $14 million in grants also from Lilly Endowment, Inc;., the national fund, in partnership with the Partners for Sacred Places, is providing preservation expertise and capital grants up to $250,000 to help restore and preserve Black churches.
The National Fund for Sacred Places program is currently accepting letters of intent from January 18 to March 7.