As part of Wednesday’s kickoff events for the 81st annual Magic City Classic, U.S. Rep Terri Sewell presented Alabama A&M University and Alabama State University with $500,000 checks to preserve historic structures on their campus.
The funding is part of an initiative from the National Park Service’s Historic Preservation Fund that grants $2.5 million to five Historically Black Colleges and Universities in Alabama. In July, Sewell’s office announced Alabama State University, Alabama A&M University, Miles College, Selma University and Stillman College would each receive $500,000 to assist with restoring historic campus buildings. The grants are part of the National Park Service’s $9.7 million investment in HBCUs nationwide.
Dr. Daniel Williams, the president of Alabama A&M University, and Dr. Quinton Jones, the president of Alabama State University, joined Sewell for the short presentation before a forum on student debt cancellation and the state of HBCUs at the BJCC’s Medical Forum Building.
“Here in Alabama, we are proud to be the home of so many of our nation’s premiere HBCUs, which have played such a pivotal role in shaping the history of our nation and educating the next generation of Black leaders and scholars,” said Sewell, who serves as vice chair of the Congressional HBCU Caucus. “I’m proud to fight every day that these cherished institutions have the resources they need to preserve our history and prepare our students for success.
“On this cusp of the Magic City Classic, I am just thrilled that Alabama State and Alabama A&M will receive $500,000 for historic preservation on their campuses.”
Sewell’s late parents Andrew A. Sewell and Nancy Gardner Sewell were both alums of Alabama State University.
“I couldn’t come to a Magic City Classic without my mother telling me about Thelma Glass and Jo Ann Robinson on the campus of Alabama State University who were so instrumental in the bus boycott and so many other things,” said Sewell. “But we also know that the Hill in Huntsville, Alabama, played a pivotal role in our fight for civil rights and voting rights here in Alabama.”
Alabama State University will use the funding to preserve G.W. Trenholm Hall. The building, named in honor of Alabama State’s fourth president, was the first dedicated library on ASU’s Montgomery campus. A press release on the ASU website says Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. studied in the building while writing his doctoral dissertation. Thelma Glass, an Alabama State alum who later returned to the college as a professor of geography, was instrumental in organizing the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott. Trenholm Hall houses an auditorium named in her honor.
During his remarks, Jones thanked Sewell for her work in the legislature and reiterated the importance of preserving HBCUs.
“They call us HBCUs— historically Black colleges — for a reason. Many of the buildings on our campus are old,” said Jones. “This is a very powerful shot in the arm for us to make sure that our facilities are [preserved] and ensure that our students have wonderful safe places to live and learn.”
Alabama A&M University will use its funding to renovate the Carnegie Hall Library.
Built in the early 1900s, Carnegie Hall is believed to be the oldest building on the Alabama A&M campus, according to a press release from the university. Alabama A&M has assembled a project team dedicated to the research and restoration of the building. Carnegie Hall is named after Andrew Carnegie, a philanthropist who donated more than $40 million to build libraries across America between 1886 and 1919.
Williams also thanked Sewell for her dedication to funding HBCUs during his remarks.
“Carnegie Hall is a historic building that is very central to our administrative offices on our campus,” said Williams. “And we wanted to thank her to be able to help us restore it, but also to repair and renovate some of the major challenges we’ve had with that building and give it a stable condition.”
Williams also emphasized the financial cost of preserving buildings on HBCU campuses.
“Many of us have very dated buildings and very dated facilities and we cannot just [demolish] or tear down all of our old buildings,” said Williams. “We have to maintain our cultural integrity and ensure that the history of our institutions are not just held but archived. And archiving our buildings costs an [enormous] amount of money.”
This year, the National Park Service’s Historic Preservation Fund also announced a series of grants to preserve a number of institutions and sites in Alabama, including The Clotilda, Selma’s Brown Chapel AME Church, Birmingham’s Saint Paul United Methodist Church and Montgomery’s Freedom Rides Museum. Rep. Sewell presented Saint Paul United Methodist Church with its $500,000 check on Monday.