Group Donates $20 Million toward the Preservation of Historic Black Churches across the US

The Lilly Endowment Inc. has donated $20 million to help preserve historic Black churches in the U.S., including one that was hit during a tornado in Kentucky last month.

According to the Associated Press, Lilly Endowment Inc. donated the money to the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund as part of the funding for the Preserving Black Churches Project.

The announcement came on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The project will do more than replace broken windows and make repairs. The project will also provide help with tasks such as asset management and aid the historic churches in telling their own stories, said Brent Leggs, executive director of the fund.

The church hit by the Mayfield tornado, St. James AME Church, will be the first recipient of the project’s special emergency funding and will be granted receive $100,000, Leggs said.

The church was founded in 1868, just three years after the Civil War. The sanctuary was destroyed in last month’s storms. The church has about 15 active members.

“Once the slaves were freed, one of the things they wanted to start was a church home. They wanted to work out their spiritual salvation and have a place to congregate, and they also were used as schools and other things,” said Rev. Ralph Johnson, presiding elder of a church district that includes the congregation.

More than 50 Black churches across the country will be helped over the next three years. Many are vacant or set for demolition or have falling membership.

“Historically Black churches deserve the same admiration and stewardship as the National Cathedral in Washington or New York’s Trinity Church,” Leggs said, referring to the church where Alexander Hamilton and others are buried.

The fund has previously helped congregations, including Mother Emmanuel AME Church, where a white supremacist killed nine church members during a Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015, and Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, which was bombed in the 1950s.

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/EJ Rodriquez

Amanda Casanova is a writer living in Dallas, Texas. She has covered news for since 2014. She has also contributed to The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News and World Report and She blogs at The Migraine Runner.

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