One of the country’s African-American National Historic sites will be getting a makeover—courtesy of the U.S. government. The historic African Meeting House on Beacon Hill in Boston recently was approved for a $4 million federal grant. The much-needed funds will give curators the opportunity to finish restoring the building, which was designated a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service, to its original 19th-century state. The Museum of African-American History owns the building.
“We’re doing this restoration project because it’s the right thing to do—helping to preserve and protect a precious cultural resource that is so critically important to the American narrative,” says Boston African-American National Historic Site Superintendent Cassius Cash. “But we’re also doing it because it’s the right thing to do for our economy. As President Obama said recently: ”In a time of great difficulty, when we are recovering from the worst recession in generations, some may ask whether now is the time to reaffirm our commitment to our national heritage. ‘I want everybody to recall, it was in the midst of the Civil War that Abraham Lincoln set aside lands that are now Yosemite National Park. Even in times of crisis, we’re called to take the long view to preserve our national heritage.'”
The oldest existing building of its kind in the nation, the Meeting House, built in 1806, has been shuttered for four years during its current renovations. The grant money will help restore the interior of the three-story brick building to its condition in 1855 at the height of the New England abolitionist movement.
The African Meeting House has been a church, school, and meeting place for the black community in Eastern Massachusetts. And in fact, abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison founded the New England Anti-Slavery Society there in 1832. After changing ownership, in 1972 it was finally purchased by the Museum of African-American History.
In all, the restoration will top $8 million. Once the Meeting House reopens early next year, it hopes to increase visitorship. All the more reason for the grant, says Superintendent Cash, “It’s that long view the National Park Service maintains as we care for these special places and preserve their stories to make sure they’re still around for future generations.”