There is a notion among those of us involved in the work of history that the buildings we fight to save, the landscapes that we honor, and the lives that we enshrine in our texts are a part of the very fabric of our national identity. No one building, landscape, or person tells just one story. Often times they serve as connective tissue linking individuals, communities, and events, and they also underscore that we all serve as protagonists in a larger, greater narratives extending beyond ourselves.
The Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge in Birmingham, Alabama represents one of these cases. It is not just the architectural styling that makes this building worthy of saving -- this is the place where many African-American citizens in Birmingham came together on a daily basis to get their teeth cleaned, buy ice cream or even attend a concert or two. It is a place which houses the headquarters for the Prince Hall Masons in Alabama. It is where Arthur Shores, a prominent African-American attorney worked with the NAACP legal defense fund to fight racial segregation in education and at the ballot box.
The Prince Hall Grand Lodge stands at the corner of the Fourth Avenue Historic District, steps away from Kelly Ingram Park and the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. In this sense, it is also an integral part of the larger leaps that this country took to rectify the wrongs of segregation. As such, this building is the story of an individual, a community, and the nation.
As we have documented in earlier blog postings, for one week this past January, 35 preservationists from across the country came together for Preservation Leadership Training (PLT) to learn and work in one of the cities pivotal to America’s Civil Rights Movement. As with the 25 sessions of PLT before it, each participant left the week armed with new ideas, new goals, and a new network of co-preservationists across the country. With only one week available to them, they also worked hard to come up with creative solutions and ideas for the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge. These ideas have been consolidated together in this final report. The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. once stated that “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter,” and so this PLT class of 2009 says with resounding confidence that this place matters.
-- Priya Chhaya
Priya Chhaya is the program assistant in the office of Training and Online Information Services at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
This Preservation Leadership Training would not have been possible without the work of our strong local committee and the support of the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation and Main Street Birmingham, Inc. In addition the program was made possible by the generous support of the The Charles Evans Hughes Memorial Foundation, Inc., Alabama Power Company Foundation, Susan Mott Webb Charitable Trust, Alabama Department of Tourism, Southern Progress Corporation, Balch & Bingham LLP, Brookmont Realty Group LLC, Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge, and Brown Chambless Architects
The deadline for applications for the next Preservation Leadership Training in Deadwood, South Dakota is March 31, 2009. To apply, or for more information on PLT, please visit our website.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.