Brown Chapel awarded $300,000 grant

Published 10:57 pm Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Juanda Maxwell, a member of the Historic Brown Chapel AME Church Preservation Society, never imagined nearly 10 years ago when the nonprofit was founded it would be awarded $800,000 in two years to help renovate the iconic church.

Last year, the preservation society was awarded a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Interior and the National Park Service. Monday, it was announced they were getting an additional $300,000 to go toward renovating the building for generations to come to enjoy.

“We’re just so over the moon. We’re so happy we don’t know what to do,” Maxwell said. “I never would have thought that we would be able to have garnered all that we have been able to garner. Never would have. Never.”

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Maxwell is a member of a seven-person team that is charged with preserving the building, which is an icon of the Civil Rights Movement and the fight for equal voting rights in Selma in 1965.

“We feel like it’s our calling because why would we have been given this admonition to do this,” Maxwell asked.

“Why would God allow it to bear fruit the way that it has? It’s because this is important for generations to come because if you don’t know your history, you’re destined to repeat it.”

The society was created in 2009 during the tenure of former pastor James Jackson, Maxwell said.

“He gave us the admonition to come up with the foundation and get our 501c3 status. The whole point of when he created it was to have an entity that could apply for grants to help maintain the structure because he knew the church could not do it,” Maxwell said.

“The membership is just not big enough, and the issues were too big.”

The 110-year-old church is one of nine sites in Alabama to receive grant money. The amount given out to sites in Alabama totals more than $2.5 million. The funding was appropriated by Congress in 2016 through the African American Civil Rights Grants Program.

“An integral part of the Interior and National Park Service mission is to help preserve and tell America’s story,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. “These grants will benefit places, like the Mount Zion AME Church, all across the nation that help tell an essential piece of that story through the African American struggle for civil rights and equality.”

The initial $500,000 grant the church received will be spent on structural repairs, such as the foundation and electrical wiring.

Maxwell said that work is still in progress and has some ways to go.

“The architect has just about finished the plans. The structural engineer will be submitting his plan sometime next week. The electrical engineer will start work next week,” Maxwell said. “We’ve got to have all three pieces before we come up with a plan of action.”

She said once the entire plan is completed, it will be submitted to the National Park Service and the Alabama Historical Commission for approval. Once approved, the project can be bid for the church’s structural repairs.

The new grant for $300,000 will be spent on cosmetic repairs, such as bathrooms, the kitchen, flooring, cleaning the stained-glass windows and other projects.

She said restoring the church is an important mission so the historical church will be around for generations to come to see it for themselves.

“If we don’t restore Brown Chapel, it won’t be here for generations to come. It will be lost,” Maxwell said.