27 Grants Awarded To African American History Sites; Funder Aims To 'Scale Up'

Jul 16, 2020
Originally published on July 20, 2020 6:00 am

In 1956, actor, singer and activist Paul Robeson said, "My father was a slave, and my people died to build this country and I am going to stay here and have a part of it just like you." Now, Robeson's home — the Paul Robeson House & Museum in Philadelphia — will receive a grant to help immortalize its part in the nation's story.

The Robeson house is one of 27 sites and organizations around the country receiving the award, announced Thursday by the National Historic Trust's African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.

Toward the end of his life, performer Paul Robeson lived in his sister's home at 4951 Walnut Street in Philadelphia.
Purnell T. Cropper / African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund

Amid the heated controversies around monuments that celebrate America's racist past, the Action Fund will help preserve sites and spaces that tell often overlooked stories that speak to American history "through the lens of Black humanity and identity," says executive director Brent Leggs.

"We created the Action Fund as a social movement to help empower communities," Leggs explains, but also to "showcase the contributions of African Americans to our nation's history."

Note: Several of the funders of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund are also NPR supporters, including Ford Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

The Historic Vernon AME Church in Tulsa, Okla., was founded in 1905.
Robert Turner / African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund

The more than two dozen recipients of the award include:

The grants, ranging from $50,000 to $150,000, will support a variety of preservation needs. In addition to restoration and rehabilitation, some grants will go toward hiring new staff and sponsoring conferences and workshops.

In New Orleans, The Leona Tate Foundation for Change will use its grant for projects that will interpret the experiences of the three little girls, including Tate, who integrated McDonogh #19, an elementary school in the Lower Ninth Ward in 1960. While African Americans cheered the first graders as they walked into the school escorted by their parents and federal marshals, white families removed their students from the school.

The McDonogh #19 Public School in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward was closed in 2004 and damaged from Hurricane Katrina. It is vacant today.
Leona Tate Foundation for Change / African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund

The Leona Tate Foundation will explore what happened to the girls "as they waited outside the Principal's Office all day while the rest of the students were removed," according to the Action Fund. The foundation also hopes to turn the building into "a space of reconciliation and healing."

Grants for this year's Action Fund totaled $1.6 million. Brent Leggs acknowledges that, when you're talking about often costly historic preservation projects, that's not much. He hopes Americans will be curious to learn the stories of these historic sites, see them as part of our collective history, and be inspired to donate to the Fund "so we can scale up our impact" in the future.

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Muddy Waters' home at 4339 S. Lake Park Ave in Chicago.
Klein and Hofflman / African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund