Black Heritage Council helping preserve history

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Selma Times-Journal

Repairs for Green Street Baptist Church have a $2.7 million price tag. Tithes won’t be enough.

Historical sites such as this are at the center of the mission of the Black Heritage Council, which is to provide advocacy for the preservation of African American sites and their associated history, artifacts and culture in Alabama.

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Nearly 100 people from around the state came to the council’s preservation forum on Friday and Saturday in search of help. The forum took place at First Baptist Church, 709 Martin Luther King St. The theme was “A heritage so rich: Discovering, preserving and promoting the history and culture of African Americans in the Black Belt through tourism.”

Information on heir property, rehabilitation tax credits for businesses in historic building, funding for historic houses, and setting up 501 (c)(3) organizations were some of the topics at the event.

“We got what we came for and then some,” said John Rawls, a member of Green Street Baptist Church.

Rawls and other church members want to preserve their church’s history. The church was established in 1891. In the 1960s, Freedom Riders, who were activists for civil rights, ate at the church. Some of the church’s members were also civil rights activists.

There are 60 congregants on the roll at Green Street, but not all attend. The sanctuary’s unstable roof has forced worship services to the education building for the past four years.

Rawls said he received a plethora of information regarding possible grants for the church’s preservation fund and encountered a lot of people who have vowed to donate to the church’s preservation effort.

“Networking is what it’s all about,” said Frazine Taylor, chairperson for the Black Heritage Council.

The forum’s attendants toured Green Street Baptist and other historic sites in the city. They also visited the Interpretive Center in Lowndes County. The tours educate people about the historical significance of the area and its sites.

Theresa Clemons of Camden is on a mission to preserve the Emanuel M. Brown Community Center. The center is a former school built in 1906 for African-American children. It sits off of Highway 41 south, 35 miles south of Selma and 15 miles north of Camden. Male students built some of the dormitories on the site.

The center is barely in operation. Senior citizens sell meals to pay for the utilities, and buildings on the campus are in disrepair.

The forum was the answer to a prayer for Clemons. She has been journaling to God asking for help to find funding.

Claudia Williams is a member of First Missionary Baptist Church in Dothan. She and the majority of the church’s elderly members are on fixed incomes and don’t have the finances to support the structure, built in 1915. She said the younger members, who are few, are not interested in restoration. They want to build a new church. If the building is not restored, it will be torn down.

“Once a building is torn down, the history is lost,” said Taylor.

First Baptist, established in 1845, was the first church established by free African-Americans in Selma. It is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is also in need of renovation.

“African-American history is so important, and all of the contributions that we’ve made are only going to be told as we work together with all other historic agencies, local, statewide and national to help us get all of our history, culture identified and certified so that we may leave our footsteps and our legacies for the younger people who are here,” said Louretta Wimberly, Black Heritage Council state member-at-large.