Action Fund Announces $3 Million in Grants to Save African American Landmarks

by July 16, 2021

The African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, announced its support for projects totaling $3 million that will help preserve African American landmarks.

With $50 million of funding, the Action Fund counts as the largest preservation effort ever undertaken to support the longevity of African American historic sites.

The announcement represents the largest single disbursement in the Action Fund’s four-year history.

“The recipients of this funding exemplify centuries of African American resilience, activism, and achievement. Some of their stories are known, and some are yet untold. Together they help document the true, complex history of our nation,” Brent Leggs, executive director of the Action Fund, remarked in a news release.

“By preserving these places and telling their stories, preservationists can help craft a more accurate American identity and inspire a commitment to justice.”

According to the release, the Action Fund has grown at a blistering pace since its inception in 2017.

In just 3 years it had raised nearly $30 million due to primary support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and The JPB Foundation.

This year the fund nearly doubled in size due to a significant gift by philanthropists MacKenzie Scott and Dan Jewett who announced a $20 million grant to the Action Fund.

Officials said this gift acknowledges the power of preservation as a form of equity and asserts the importance of African American history as a vital force in the American cultural landscape.

Scott joins this year’s lead funder The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation with additional gifts from The William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust, President and Mrs. George W. Bush, the Chapman Foundation, and an anonymous donation in memory of Ahmaud Arbery.

“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 as Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.

“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 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.”

Since its inception in 2017 as a response to the conflict in Charlottesville, Virginia, surrounding a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, the Action Fund has supported 105 places through its national grant program for a total investment of $7.3 million.

“We are delighted that the Action Fund continues to affirm the centrality of Black voices and experiences to historical preservation in the United States, and to broaden public awareness of the significance of these landmarks,” said Elizabeth Alexander, president of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

“The 2021 grantees—which range from museums and public libraries to theaters, historic churches, and universities—represent vital cultural sites that enrich our cities, small towns, and rural communities, and that serve as a testament to the fortitude and ingenuity of the African Americans who created them.”

By supporting the longevity of the homes of well-known opera singer Marian Anderson in Philadelphia and the first Black girl millionairess Sarah Rector in Kansas City, the legacies of Asbury United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C., and the Georgia

B. Williams birthing center for Black women in Georgia, the Action Fund saves the landmarks that tell timeless stories about the ways African Americans faced their fate with courage, ingenuity, creativity, and genius.

“These stories help shift the narrative around the value of Black life and correct the inaccuracy of omission in the American story,” officials wrote in the release.

To learn more about the Action Fund and the 2021 grantees, go to www.savingplaces.org/actionfund

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