Nantucket’s African American Meeting House, the oldest remaining public building constructed and occupied by the Black community on Nantucket, has received a grant for around $140,000 from the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund to help cover restoration efforts.
“For far too long African American sites of African American history have been overlooked and undervalued,” said Brent Leggs, Executive Director of the Action Fund. “This absence of recognition is itself a form of cultural erasure. So our goal is to present to the public the beauty and complexity of the Black lived experience and to highlight across space, time and geography the historic impact of Black people.”
The Meeting House, built in 1827, is one of the oldest buildings of its kind in the country and has long been valued for providing a unique insight into the history of Nantucket’s Black community.
“It is one of the oldest historic assets important in Black history that still stands,” Leggs said. “I don’t know if a lot of Americans know there is a long and storied Black past on Nantucket.”
The Meeting House was first re-opened to the public in 1999 after a comprehensive renovation, and the island’s coastal climate has taken its toll in the intervening quarter-century. The windows, in particular, have deteriorated, and the site’s caretakers have dedicated significant time and money to restoring and repairing the antique glass and other necessary materials.
Now, with support from the largest U.S. fund to preserve African American sites, the Meeting House can pursue restoration work in earnest.
In recent years, the Meeting House has most often been in the news for the racist graffiti spray-painted on the building in 2018. Many islanders feel that justice was never reached for the hate crime, which received national attention but has not resulted in any criminal convictions.
Leggs has been aware of the hate crime for years and used an image of the graffiti during multiple keynote addresses to signal that racism is not isolated to the American South. “It permeates to communities all across the country,” he said.
The grant comes as part of a larger announcement by the Action Fund, which is celebrating Juneteenth by announcing approximately $3 million in grant funding to protect and preserve more than 30 sites representing African American history.
“We hope that the public will join us on this journey and consider donating to the action fund and signing up for our newsletter, but most importantly we hope that this makes people curious about understanding the full American story,” Leggs said.