Dozens of black cultural sites will be preserved for years to come, thanks to $ 3 million grant

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By Harmeet Kaur, CNN

(CNN) – The stories and heritage of Black Americans can be found across the United States, with each site and landmark helping to illustrate a more complete picture of the nation we live in.

The story lives on in the communities where once enslaved people settled after the end of the Civil War and in the shelters where black Americans sought refuge from the dangers of Jim Crow. The legacies endure in the colleges and universities that gave birth to generations of black scholars and rulers, and in the homes of prominent musicians and poets.

Dozens of these places will now be preserved for years to come, thanks to a total of $ 3 million in grants from the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.

The African-American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, an initiative of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, was launched in 2017 after white supremacists traveled to Charlottesville, Virginia, with the alleged aim of saving a statue of the Confederate General Robert E. Lee. It was created “for the purpose of rebuilding a true national identity that reflects America’s diversity,” said action fund executive director Brent Leggs.

“What it means to preserve a landmark in this instance is really to tell the neglected stories embodied in these places – those of African American resilience, activism and achievement – which are fundamental to the nation itself, ”he said.

This latest grant is split among a total of 40 projects spanning 17 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, DC. This is the largest disbursement in the history of the equity fund.

Here are some of the places that will be preserved – and the stories behind them.

Emmett Till’s funeral site

After 14-year-old Emmett Till was brutally killed by two white men in Mississippi, his body was returned home to his family in Chicago.

His mother, Mamie Till Mobley, insisted that a casket be opened at the funeral so that mourners could testify about his mutilated body.

“Let people see what they did to my boy,” she said.

The 1955 funeral drew thousands of people who lined up to pay their respects. It was a turning point in the civil rights movement – and it took place at the Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ.

The church, founded in the early 1900s, is an official Chicago landmark where a congregation still worship today. Last year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation listed it as one of the most endangered historic places in the United States due to serious structural issues.

A coalition working to preserve the Roberts Temple plans to address security concerns and eventually restore the building to its 1955 appearance.

Green Book sites in the Carolinas

For African Americans in the mid-1900s, traveling was a life and death business.

A guide known as the Green Book, however, helped black people navigate safely in a nation in which they were regularly subjected to segregation, discrimination and physical violence.

“The Negro Motorist Green Book,” as it was officially called, listed hotels, motels, restaurants, gas stations, and other establishments where African-American guests were welcome. Many of these sites have also served as hubs for activism and civil rights organization.

More than 300 Green Book sites are in North Carolina, and the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission has made an effort to document and map each of these locations through an online portal.

The commission will also work with its South Carolina counterpart to develop a national model for the project, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

A cultural oasis for black musicians

One of the sites listed in the Green Book was the Metropolitan Hotel, opened in 1909 by a black woman named Maggie Steed.

Located in Paducah, Kentucky, it was a place of rest and refuge for African Americans passing through the region – a shelter from the discrimination they would have faced elsewhere. The hotel was also a stopover on the Chitlin ‘Circuit, a network of venues across the South where black musicians could perform during the Jim Crow era.

Over the years, the Metropolitan Hotel has hosted jazz and blues legends such as Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and BB King. Because it had become a hub for creatives, the hotel built a juke joint known as the “Purple Room,” where musicians would relax, have a drink and perform for other guests, according to an article from Kentucky Educational Television.

Today, the Metropolitan Hotel operates as a museum, and the grant will help restore the Purple Room to its former glory.

A dormitory for black students

African-American women in Boston who were not allowed into their college and university residences in the mid-1900s remained at the headquarters of the League of Women for Community Service, a social service organization run by black women from the city.

One of those women was Coretta Scott, who lived in the building when she was a student at the New England Conservatory of Music. It was around this time that she started dating her future husband Martin Luther King Jr., according to the League’s website.

The multi-storey brownstone in Boston’s South End is currently being rehabilitated, and new funds will go towards the restoration of the entrance portico.

The site where the first African slaves arrived

In 1619, a ship carrying more than 20 enslaved Africans arrived at Port Comfort on the shores of Virginia. His arrival marked the beginning of slavery in British North America, forever changing the course of what would become the United States.

This site is now part of Fort Monroe, where abolitionist Harriet Tubman briefly treated wounded and sick African-American soldiers. In 2019, thousands of people gathered there to commemorate the 400th anniversary of American slavery.

The Fort Monroe Foundation and other groups are working to preserve and contextualize the history of the site, and a sculpture has been commissioned to honor the slaves who were brought there.

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