The donation will help churches who are facing a lack of funding, dwindling congregations, and challenges from the pandemic and natural disasters. 
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As the country celebrated the incredible legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday, Lilly Endowment Inc., a philanthropic foundation supporting religious, educational, and charitable causes, honored the civil rights leader and minister with a $20 million donation to fund the preservation and assistance of Black churches. 

The foundation gave the money to the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund as seed funding for their Preserving Black Churches Project, a project which aims to "reimagine, redesign, and redeploy historic preservation to address the institutions' needs and the cultural assets and stories they steward." 

Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston
Credit: Getty Images / The Washington Post

This means that rather than focusing solely on physical repairs like replacing broken stained-glass windows or repairing rafters, the fund will also help Black churches acquire the tools and programming they need to to ensure long-term success. Help with asset management, staffing and operations, and the development of digital storytelling and documentation strategies will enable churches to tell their stories for years to come. 

St. James AME Church will be the first church to receive a donation from the project's emergency fund. The Mayfield, Kentucky church was badly damaged during last month's deadly quad-state tornado. They will receive $100,000 to begin rebuilding their demolished sanctuary and assist with other repairs. 

In addition to St. James AME, the project plans to assist more than 50 Black churches over the next three years. Many of the churches that will receive assistance are vacant, facing threats of demolition, struggling financially, or experiencing aging and dwindling membership. 

In the past, the fund has aided Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, where a white supremacist killed nine parishioners during a Bible study in 2015, and Birmingham's Bethel Baptist Church, which was bombed during the civil rights movement in the 1950s. 

Black churches have been at the center of African American communities for generations. Many were the sites for landmark civil rights efforts and served as gathering places where civic engagement blossomed. Today, they are a living testament to the resilience and achievements of Black Americans through history. They remain vital to their communities by not only influencing religion, but also social, political, and economic life. 

"Black churches are exceptionally important in American democracy, not only for their legacy in civil and human rights, but also for their role in uplifting civic identity and community empowerment," Brent Leggs, executive for the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, said in an interview with ABC News. "[Preserving] our shared cultural heritage and pride is an act of racial justice."

The Action Fund has raised more than $70 million for 200 preservation projects since its inception in 2017.