By: Kyle Niblett
Feb. 1, 2023
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Old Mount Carmel Baptist Church, which the University of Florida Historic Preservation Program (HPP) and School of Architecture have been working to save, has received a $200,000 grant from the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) announced last month. The historical Gainesville site, known for its impact on American society, was one of just 35 historic Black churches across the United States to receive grants.
“UF’s Historic Preservation program is so pleased to be a partner in the rehabilitation of Old Mount Carmel Baptist Church,” UF HPP Acting Director Dr. Cleary Larkin said. “This grant is an excellent start to the stabilization and preservation of this Civil Rights landmark.”
The church, which last year was named to the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation’s annual “11 to Save” list, is the centerpiece of Gainesville’s Pleasant Street Historic District, the first neighborhood of African American homeowners established in the city. As one of the most threatened historic places in the country, the grant will combat water damage by replacing the building’s roof and protecting the building envelope, helping the institution continue its religious mission and serving a broader network of local nonprofit organizations in the historic space.
Now that HPP has received this grant and accomplished the goal of getting the church listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Larkin and her team continue their relentless effort to apply for additional grants through NTHP, the National Park Service and the State of Florida. With the formal recognition by those around the country of the property’s historic significance as a cultural and architectural resource, the fight to preserve the building for use as a social justice and cultural arts center is a passionate one.
“We look forward to supporting the project with more grant applications and funding the entire rehabilitation of the building for its use as the Pleasant Street Social Justice and Cultural Arts Center,” Larkin continued. “This mission will positively impact the Pleasant Street neighborhood, and the City of Gainesville as a whole.”
Pastor Gerard Duncan, who oversees the Prayers by Faith Family Ministry run out of Old Mount Carmel, agrees.
“To be awarded the funding and to be recognized with some of the most historic African-American churches in the country, I’m just floored right now,” Duncan recently told the Gainesville Sun.
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 (NAACP) 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.
Faculty at DCP hope that preserving the building 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.
“This grant will assist in continuing social justice for Gainesville,” Larkin finished with. “Our program is proud to be an ally in this work to continue this church’s historic legacy.”