By: Kyle Niblett
Old Mount Carmel Baptist Church, which the University of Florida Historic Preservation Program and School of Architecture have been working with to save due to its historical significance to the city of Gainesville, has been named to the annual “11 to Save” list, the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation announced this past week. The list features the most threatened historic places in the state.
“The Old Mount Carmel Baptist Church was the center of Gainesville’s Civil Rights movement, and through preservation and adaptive re-use, will continue its significance as a center for social justice and heritage,” UF HPP Acting Director Dr. Cleary Larkin said. “The Historic Preservation Program is honored to be an ally with the African American community for this important project.”
Featured inside the UF College of Design, Construction and Planning, UF HPP continued to help the church by getting it listed on the National Register of Historic Places this past spring, gaining formal recognition of the property’s historic significance as a cultural and architectural resource to the State of Florida.
During the midcentury, the church served as a religious and social hub for the African American community and a strategic center where local, state, and national organizations planned legal and other nonviolent actions for the Civil Rights Movement in Alachua County and North Central Florida. The building was the command post for the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapter, hosting discussions about the desegregation of the county school system and supporting local students involved in the 1971 Black Thursday sit-in to improve racial equity at UF.
Currently, the building is in disrepair, having suffered roof damage and water infiltration. In addition, new residential construction and gentrification threaten the building’s historic setting and continued use as a community gathering space. Faculty at DCP hope that preserving the building for use as a social justice and cultural arts center will help educate the community about the building’s Civil Rights heritage and bolster equity activism in the historic Pleasant Street Neighborhood and across the city.
“We are truly honored to be recognized on this list and are very grateful for the collaboration of community members, city, county and UF faculty and students on the success of this historic project,” Pastor Gerard Duncan said. “Dr. Larkin has done a phenomenal job along with Donna Cohen in helping me with this nomination and continuing to support us with this preservation project.”