Michigan attains African American Civil Rights historic resource survey grant

Thursday, May 7, 2020

$50,000 grant will be used to conduct intensive-level historic resource survey to document Civil Rights sites in Muskegon County

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The Sepia Club was a popular African American jazz club on Spring Street near downtown Muskegon. Black musical groups would often perform at the Sepia on their way to or from a stop at northern Michigan’s Idlewild Resort. The Club has since been demolished, but the survey will capture other sites associated with Civil Rights and the African American community in Muskegon County. [contributed photo]

The Michigan State Historic Preservation Office has been awarded a $50,000 African American Civil Rights grant from the National Park Service, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation announced today. The funding will be used to conduct an intensive-level historic resource survey to identify and document sites related to the African American experience in Muskegon County. The research will be done in partnership with the Muskegon Area Intermediate School District, the first project SHPO has undertaken with a public school system.

“Many important battles for African American equality, both small and large, took place in Michigan, and Michigan receiving this grant is a significant recognition of those efforts. The Muskegon County survey project is a great opportunity to learn about the places that are meaningful to African Americans in West Michigan,” said Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer Martha MacFarlane-Faes. “We look forward to working with the school district and its partners to strengthen the knowledge of Muskegon’s African American history, increase pride in the community, and incorporate Muskegon County’s place-based civil rights history into an educational initiative.”

Since 2018, the Muskegon Area ISD has been working with partners at the Coalition for Community Development and the Muskegon NAACP to develop curriculum related to African American history in Muskegon County as well as develop toolkits for teachers to utilize in the classroom. The toolkits could also easily be adapted for teachers and others to use in online learning. This ongoing project is rich in information collected through oral histories, but it has yet to link the collected history to the physical environment which surrounds these students. The goal of the educational portion of the project will be to begin tying those oral stories to physical places, creating more tangible connections to the past.

With the support of the federal Civil Rights grant, the research will be documented in a historic resource survey report that will identify significant themes, trends, time periods, people, and property types, using national Civil Rights context and guidance from the National Park Service. Intensive-level survey has been determined to be the most effective method for documenting historic sites related to the Civil Rights movement, as the significance of these historic resources is often related to the history rather than the architecture.

Congress appropriated funding for the African American Civil Rights Grants Program in 2019 through the Historic Preservation Fund, presenting 51 awards this April to projects across 20 states and the District of Columbia. Other grants awarded include Preservation of the Bertha Pleasant Williams Library in Montgomery, Ala.; Rehabilitation of the Franklin Street School in Cape May City, NJ; the Union Baptist Cemetery Historic Preservation Project in Cincinnati, OH; and the Fair Park Hall of Negro Life Research and Discovery Project in Dallas, TX.

“These grants will fund important projects that document, interpret, and preserve sites that tell the stories of the African American experience in the pursuit of civil rights,” said National Park Service Deputy Director David Vela. “Thanks to the coordination of public and private partners, these projects will help connect Americans to historic places that preserve American history.”

This is the third National Park Service African American Civil Rights grant the Michigan SHPO has received. In 2019, a grant was awarded for the rehabilitation of the roof of the King Solomon Baptist Church in Detroit, a nationally-prominent historic site in the Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s. The first grant in 2016 documented thirty 20th Century civil rights sites in Detroit, developed National Register of Historic Places nominations for five sites, and will place Michigan State Historical Markers at three civil rights sites. A bike tour encompassing 15 civil rights sites is scheduled to launch later this year. This 2020 award builds on these prior efforts and the momentum to properly document Michigan’s complete range of Civil Rights sites and consider their significance.

Today’s announcement comes during National Preservation Month, an annual celebration that recognizes the diverse and unique heritage of our country’s cities and states. Every year in May, local preservation groups, state historical societies, and business and civic organizations across the country celebrate Preservation Month through events and outreach that promote historic places and heritage tourism, and that demonstrate the social and economic benefits of historic preservation.

Focused on the historic preservation of culturally or archaeologically significant sites throughout the state, Michigan's State Historic Preservation Office’s main function is to provide technical assistance to local communities in their efforts to identify, evaluate, designate, interpret and protect Michigan’s historic above- and below-ground resources. SHPO also administers an incentives program that includes federal tax credits and pass-through grants available to certified local governments.

To learn more about the State Historic Preservation Office, visit https://www.miplace.org/historic-preservation/.

NOTE: This material was produced with assistance from the African American Civil Rights grant program, administered by the National Park Service, Department of the Interior. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of the Interior.

About Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC)

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