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Chicago’s South Side Community Arts Center among preservation grant recipients

A file photo of the exterior of The South Side Community Art Center, Chicago, Monday, May 6, 2013. | John H. White~Sun-Times, File

NEW ORLEANS — More than $1 million in grants has been awarded by the African-American Cultural Heritage Action Fund to support African-American heritage sites, it was announced Friday. The grants are part of a dedicated effort by the National Trust for Historic Preservation preserve African-American historic places.

Included on the list of grant recipients is Chicago’s South Side Community Arts Center on South Michigan Avenue. The center was founded by the late artist/poet/activist Dr. Margaret Burroughs in the early 1940s as a venue dedicated to showcasing the work of African-American artists. The building was designated a Chicago historical landmark in 1994.

Brent Leggs, who directs the fund, said African-American historic places have traditionally been undervalued and underfunded. “Through the action fund we have the opportunity to raise the visibility and the full contributions of African-Americans to our nation. We have the opportunity to highlight stories and places of activism achievement and community, to rewrite history and tell a new story about a black America,” he said.

The group and outside advisers narrowed down the 830 applicants from 42 states to 16 awardees. The grants are given in four categories: capacity building; project planning; capital; and programming and interpretation.

The trust plans to raise a total of $25 million over five years to preserve and highlight African-American historical contributions.

The recipients constitute a range of sites and needs across America. Some, like Shockoe Bottom in Richmond, Virginia, are connected with the slave trade while others, like the John and Alice Coltrane Home, in Huntington, New York, are connected with African-American artistic contributions.

Historic Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, is part of a consortium of civil rights sites in the city that received a grant. Martha Bouyer of Bethel Baptist says the church, home to famous civil rights activist pastor Fred Shuttlesworth, will use the money for a historic structures report — a detailed accounting of the building which can guide future preservation efforts.

“I’ve been trying for years to get this done,” Bouyer said of the grant.

Paul A. Ellis Jr. is executive director of the August Wilson House in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which pays homage to the African-American playwright who wrote such works as “Fences.” Ellis, who’s also Wilson’s nephew, said the organization will match the $50,000 grant from the trust and use it to create a series of interpretive exhibits and interactive techniques that “tell the story of August Wilson and the community that served as the inspiration for his plays.”


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“That’s why it means so much to get this grant, to keep moving forward with this project,” he said. “We’re here in August Wilson’s hometown and we want the world to know his story.”

Leggs said the fund was created in “the aftermath of Charlottesville last summer where heritage, culture and public spaces collided” as a way to “tell the whole history of our nation and to foster understanding, healing and reconciliation.”

In Charlottesville, Virginia, last year, a “Unite the Right” rally drew hundreds of white nationalists to the college town, where officials planned to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. After vicious brawling broke out between white nationalists and counterdemonstrators, a driver ran his car into a crowd of counterdemonstrators, killing one and injuring many. He currently faces federal hate crime charges.

Here is the list of this year’s grant recipients:

— August Wilson House, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

— African American Homesteader Sites in locations across the Great Plains.

— Buffalo Soldiers at Yosemite, Yosemite, California.

— Civil Rights Sites of Birmingham, including the 16th Street Baptist Church, Bethel Baptist Church, and Colored Masonic Temple.

— Freedom House Museum and Virginia National Urban League Headquarters, Alexandria, Virginia.

— The Grand Old Lady, Washington, D.C.

— Historic Roxbury, Boston, Massachusetts.

— John and Alice Coltrane Home, Huntington, New York.

— Mars Hill Anderson Rosenwald School, Marshall, North Carolina.

— Mary and Eliza Freeman Houses, Bridgeport, Connecticut.

— Mountain View Black Officers Club, Fort Huachuca, Arizona.

— Shockoe Bottom, Richmond, Virginia.

— South Side Community Arts Center, Chicago, Illinois.

— Tuskegee University Rosenwald School Program, Tuskegee, Alabama.

— Weeksville’s Hunterfly Row Houses, Brooklyn, New York

— Wilfandel Clubhouse, Los Angeles, California.

Associated Press; Contributing: Sun-Time staff reporter Miriam Di Nunzio

This file photo taken Oct. 31, 2013 shows a person walking past the Freedom House Museum in Alexandria, Va. A historic preservation group is awarding $1.1 million to help support important African-American historic sites. | AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File
This file photo taken Oct. 31, 2013 shows a person walking past the Freedom House Museum in Alexandria, Va. A historic preservation group is awarding $1.1 million to help support important African-American historic sites. | AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File