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Allows Nomination of Six Historic African American Churches in Cleveland to the National Register of Historic Places

Much of Black America’s foundation, in Northeast Ohio and throughout the U.S., lies in its faith and spirituality, i.e., The Black Church. Now in Cleveland, a grant from the National Park Service acknowledges the importance of preserving more of these sacred places in the telling of Black history and in all American history.

The $52,149 grant, awarded to the Cleveland Restoration Society, will enable CRS to nominate six historic and predominately Black churches, many already deemed Cleveland Landmarks, to the National Register. As it currently stands, in Ohio a meager 1.5% of the National Register of Historic Places are categorized as Black Heritage. Further, in Cleveland, where 47% of residents identify as Black, only 4% of buildings and other places are designated for their significance in African American Culture.

In the group of nominees are the following: Advent Evangelical Lutheran Church at 15309 Harvard Ave., constructed in 1965 by Whitley/Whitley, twin brothers, among the first registered African American architects in Ohio, and their sister, R. Joyce Whitley, who was one of the first African American City Planners and Urban Designers in the U.S. The church was the firm’s first project, uniquely representing a mid-century modern screen-substyle of Usonian architecture, often used for offices, rather than ecclesiastical buildings.

Calvary Presbyterian at 7820 Euclid Ave. is an 1887 late Victorian Romanesque revival structure designed by Charles F. Schweinfurth, one of the most distinguished architects in Cleveland’s history. Originally, Calvary Presbyterian served wealthy white residents on Euclid Avenue, known at the time as “Millionaires’ Row.” By the 1950s, the neighborhood surrounding the church was primarily African American, resulting in a racially integrated congregation. Calvary was recently rebranded as New Life at Calvary.

Emmanuel Baptist Church, 7901 Quincy Ave., a mid-century era church built in 1949, with an addition built in 1956, is eligible for its association with African American builder Arthur Bussey and architect Robert P. Madison. Bussey belonged to the congregation and completed $125,000 of work on the new building after a fire destroyed the old one. Madison designed the addition, is the first African American in Ohio to receive a degree in architecture and established the first Black-owned architecture firm in the Midwest.

Greater Abyssinia Baptist Church at 1161 E. 105th, built in 1906 and purchased by the congregation in 1947 is eligible for nomination for its association with civil rights activist Rev. Dr. E. T. Caviness, pastor of the church since 1961. Rev. Caviness was a crucial player in the Civil Rights movement. In the 1960s, Greater Abyssinia was the headquarters for the United Freedom Movement, which was on the frontlines of Cleveland’s campaign to fight against segregated schools. Caviness’ footprints are enshrined in Xernona Clayton’s International Civil Rights Walk of Fame in Atlanta, and GABC is a site on Cleveland’s Civil Rights Trail (clevelandcivilrightstrail.org).

Greater Friendship Baptist Church at 12305 Arlington Ave. is a high style Gothic Revival church with a Jacobethan style wing built in 1926 by noted architect John William Creswell Corbusier. The church features stained glass windows by Douglas Phillips, believed to be the only African American artist to run his own stained-glass studio between 1952 and 1995. The main “Africa” window depicts an African American Christ figure, arms outstretched, above an image of the African continent. Other African American figures and an angel surround Christ. Greater Friendship is eligible for nomination to the National Register due to its architectural design as well as its association with Phillips.

Nazarene Baptist (8415 Wade Park Ave.) was designed in the Tudor-revival eclectic style by Charles Frank Cramer and Godfrey Fugman and constructed in 1894. It is one of the few remaining buildings designed by the firm. The property is eligible for nomination due to its architectural design. Located in the Hough neighborhood, originally a fashionable white residential working-class district starting in the 1870s, the population was 74% Black by 1960. By 1965 the neighborhood was in crisis, and experienced harassment by the police. In 1966, a dispute in a café led to what is now known as the Hough Uprising – five days of violence stemming from years of discrimination against Black residents, resulting in four people dead, 50 injured, and 275 arrested. According to oral history, Nazarene was the only church that stayed open, playing a significant role in this tragic historic event.

About the Underrepresented Communities Grant Program

The National Park Service’s Underrepresented Communities Grant Program (URC) is intended to diversify listings in the National Register of Historic Places to include communities that are currently underrepresented. URC grants are funded by the Historic Preservation Fund (HPF), and are administered by the National Park Service. For more information about the URC grant program, visit http://go.nps.gov/urc.