The National Park Service Historic Preservation Fund (HPF) bestowed a $500,000 dollar financial blessing on Wheat Street Baptist Church, located in heart of the internationally renowned Auburn Avenue historic district. This financial windfall is part of the 2018 $12.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Interior and the National Park Service.
This year, there were three grant recipients selected from the metro Atlanta area and Wheat Street Baptist Church received the largest award among the three local recipients. The Ralph David Abernathy III, Foundation was awarded $490,000 for the restoration and preservation of the West Hunter Street Baptist Church, Phase 2, and Georgia State University Research Foundation Inc. was given $50,000 for nominating U.S. Civil Rights Sites to the World’s Heritage List.
Wheat Street Baptist Church was included among 51 projects in 24 states that preserve sites and highlight stories related to the African American struggle for equality in the 20th century. Wheat Street’s iconic 2,500 seat sanctuary was a critical meeting and coordination site for many pivotal Civil Right activities in Atlanta including the desegregation of Atlanta’s Police force in 1948, and Atlanta’s public Transportation system in 1957—both led by the late Rev. Dr. William Holmes Borders, Sr.
“We are so very grateful to have been chosen among this year’s grant recipients,” says Dr. Ralph, Basui Watkins, the current senior Pastor of Wheat Street Baptist Church. “This financial blessing will allow us an opportunity to begin working on several much needed renovations. With this grant Wheat Street’s Civil Rights legacy has new life as we look at our rich historic past with fresh eyes for even brighter future,” he adds.
The National Park Service is a bureau of the U.S. Department of Interior. Congress initially appropriated funding for the African American Civil Right Grant Program in 2016 through the Historic Preservation Fund. The HPF uses revenue from the federal oil leases on the Outer Continental providing assistance for a broad range of preservation projects without expending tax dollars. For the second consecutive year Congress has increased funding for this program from $8 million to $13 million.
In addition to Wheat Street Baptist Church Civil Right’s legacy the church also served as a vital economic resource within Atlanta’s historic Auburn Avenue corridor by establishing the nation’s first church based federally accredited credit union in 1955, providing the country’s first federally-subsidized affordable housing development in 1964, opening retail shopping centers for business and service opportunities in 1969; as well as providing affordable senior housing in 1972.
The HPF grant can only be used for specific designated structural and or cosmetic repairs. The funds will be managed and dispersed by The Wheat Street Charitable Foundation Inc. The Wheat Street Charitable Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit separate entity which functions as an independent extension of the church.
According to Dan Smith, National Park Service Deputy Director, the mission of the African American HPF grant program is to work with local communities to preserve notable historic places to help them tell more in depth stories of their specific role in the Civil Rights struggle in their respective communities.
“We are very appreciative of the National Park Service’s (NPS) commitment to help preserve and share an essential piece of the Wheat Street story and African American struggle for civil rights and equality,” says Wheat Street Charitable Foundation President, Eric Borders. We look forward to continuing to work with NPS in the future.”