NPS Awards $1.162 Million to Preserve African American Civil Rights History in Virginia

Published September 26, 2019
Third Street Bethel AME Church in Richmond.
Third Street Bethel AME Church in Richmond.

—DHR awarded $400,000 to assist Third Street Bethel AME Church in Richmond with its next-phase rehabilitation project—

— Four other entities have been awarded NPS grants for rehabilitation of historic landmarks—

The National Park Service has awarded the Department of Historic Resources and four other entities in Virginia more than $1.162 million in African American Civil Rights grants to preserve and highlight stories related to the African American struggle for equality in the 20th century. The Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR) will receive $400,000 to support the Third Street Bethel AME Church in Richmond with the next phase of an ongoing rehabilitation project. The funding will allow for numerous repairs to the interior of the historic church.
An important building in the Jackson Ward National Historic Landmark district, Third Street Bethel AME Church was listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register (VLR) and the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) in 1975. Those listings recognized Third Street for its historical significance during the 19th century as one of Virginia’s first congregations to join the African Methodist Episcopal denomination, a potent, early advocate for African American civil rights. The VLR and NRHP listings also note the church’s distinction as one of the few antebellum black church buildings remaining in the country. Originally a plain church in appearance, Third Street Bethel’s exterior was enhanced in 1875 with a new façade that featured two brick towers and Gothic Revival-style windows and other elements. Further remodeling occurred in 1914 under the direction of Richmond-based architect Carl Ruehrmund. Earlier phases of the church’s ongoing rehabilitation were also funded by NPS grants secured by staff at DHR working in collaboration with Third Street Bethel officials. During the first phase of grant-funding DHR staff expanded the documentation about the church’s history through the 20th for the National Register listing, addressing in particular its civil rights story during the 1950s and 1960s. An early milestone in its 20th-century civil rights history was the occasion in 1901 when Maggie L. Walker articulated her plans in a speech at the church to establish a bank, newspaper, and department store for African Americans. Four other grantees awarded NPS Civil Rights grants are—
  • Hampton University, which is to receive $104,000 to rehabilitate the Thomas C. Walker House in Gloucester (Gloucester Co.);
  • John Family Life and Fitness Center, Inc., $75,000 to rehabilitate St. John Rosenwald School in Gordonsville (Orange Co.);
  • Virginia Union, $500,000 to restore the Belgian Building on its campus, located in Richmnd; and
  • Virginia University of Lynchburg, a combined $533,850 for two separate projects to restore two buildings on its campus;
DHR staff provided advice to Hampton University and St. John Family Life and Fitness in their applications for the NPS grants.  

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