Black churches get a helping hand this week, in the form of a $20 million donation.
The Preserving Black Churches Project, run by the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, was started by the National Trust for Historical Preservation in 2017. It is, by the numbers, the largest ever attempt to preserve and restore sites important specially to African American history.
Historically Black churches are important icons of African American history.
“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 St. James AME Church. St. James AME was founded in 1868, only three years after the civil war, and was nearly destroyed by the Mayfield tornado last month. Despite having a remaining congregation of fewer than 15 people, St. James AME will be one of the recipients of the donated funds. The church needs $100,000 to rebuild their sanctuary.
“Historically Black churches deserve the same admiration and stewardship as the National Cathedral in Washington or New York’s Trinity Church,” said Johnson.
The generous donation comes from Lilly Endowment Inc, a fund started by the founders of the Eli Lilly pharmaceutical company. It is the world’s largest private philanthropic foundation with an endowment of approximately $10 billion. Lilly Endowment donates approximately $500 million a year, focusing on religious and educational causes.
The $20 million will help more than 50 Black churches over the next three years. The Project wants to preserve both abandoned churches of historical significance and young churches with active membership. It will not only pay to preserve the buildings, but will educate the stewards of these churches to keep them viable going forward.