Photo caption: Africatown Heritage Preservation Foundation Board Members Anderson Flen, Ruth Ballard and Joe Womack. (Images courtesy Oberlin College and The Birmingham Times)
The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund recently named the Africatown Heritage Preservation Foundation (AHP Foundation) as one among 27 recipients that won more than $1.6 million in grant support.
Africatown’s new foundation, formed in 2019, will receive $50,000 from the National Trust through The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The award goes to key places and organizations that help protect and restore historic African American sites. The AHP Foundation will use the money to acquire professional help to begin building the local infrastructure needed to bring the Africatown community together, said Board President Anderson Flen.
“We are extremely excited and appreciative to be one of 27 awardees — out of 538 applications and 58 finalists — to receive funding toward our effort,” Flen said. He thanked the National Trust and its African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund for their generous support and confidence in the fledgling organization.
Brent Leggs, Executive Director of the Action Fund, says, “The recipients of this funding exemplify centuries of African American resilience, activism, and achievement, some known and some yet untold, that tell the complex story of American history in the United States.”
Over the past two years, Leggs said, the National Trust funded 65 historic African American places, investing more than $4.3 million to help preserve landscapes and buildings imbued with Black life, humanity, and cultural heritage. “With urgency and intention, the nation must value the link between architecture and racial justice and should fund these and other cultural assets to ensure their protection and preservation” he said.
Flen, an Africantown native, is an initial founder of the AHP Foundation along with Mobile County Training School classmate Retired Marine Major Joe Womack and long-time Africatown resident Ruth Ballard. Flen said they will be “calling on all willing hands, caring hearts, innovative minds, and embracing spirits to help us make the Africatown Heritage Preservation Foundation a beacon of hope and healing so that future generations will know and enjoy the internationally uplifting and transformative stories of Africatown.”
“We know the work ahead will be tremendously difficult, and will require the positive generous supporters of a strong board of directors, staff and significantly more financial resources,” he said. “Through our united efforts and collaborative work, we will build and produce the organizational foundation of excellence our community needs, deserves, and expects.”
Ballard said that it was “humbling and exciting” for the AHP Foundation to receive such a prestigious grant on their first try. “We will do everything in our power to uphold our values and integrity, not just of the organization, but the community as a whole. The board will not make any decisions without community input.”
Womack said that, with the grant, the real work begins.
“Africatown has a variety of projects that have been spearheaded by individuals that are only able to devote about 5 hours a week to try and accomplish their specific mission,” Womack said. “Now we will be able to actually hire someone as a full time employee to oversee these projects and organize them in a manner that better benefits the community objectives.”
Other entities and organizations who won grants from the Trust’s $1.6 million grant cycle this year include Historic Vernon Chapel AME in Tulsa, Oklahoma; Historic Mitchelville Freedom Park in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina; Paul Robeson House in Philadelphia; Founder’s Church of Religious Science in Los Angeles. Grants were given across four categories: capacity building, project planning, capital, and programming and interpretation.