African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund gives grants to Lynchburg homes to preserve Black History

Published: Jul. 21, 2022 at 12:04 AM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - The National Trust for Historic Preservation has awarded $3 million in grants to 33 organizations in the US through its African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.

In Lynchburg The Anne Spencer House & Garden Museum and the Home of Dr. Robert Walter “Whirlwind” Johnson received funding.

“This is one of the most prestigious honors that we have received thus far because it allows us to continue the legacy of what my grandfather has done,” said Whirlwind Johnson Foundation President Jolynn Johnson Smith.

Dr. Robert Walter “Whirlwind” Johnson was a physician and civil rights activist, and coached two grand slam champions in his backyard.

“But there were many instances and stories where they would go to tournaments and somebody might put an ax on their door and say go home because they were not wanted,” explained Smith. “But Dr. J just diplomatically and tactically integrated the sport.”

The grant will help restore his house with hopes of opening a museum to ensure his legacy.

“When African Americans could not stay in hotels it is rumored that my grandfather had people there like Duke Ellington, Roy Campanella, Jackie Robinson, Marian Anderson, added Smith. “As they would come through the south or south through north.”

Two blocks away from Dr. Robert Walter Johnson lived Anne Spencer, a poet and the first African American librarian employed by the city.

“During that same period of time, she’s associated with the Harlem school of writers. Meaning that Harlem is coming to Lynchburg. Harlem is coming to this home where we are, 1313 Pierce Street,” said Executive Director and Curator Shaun Spencer-Hester. “People like James Weldon Johnson, W.E.B. Du Bois, and even in the later days Maya Angelou.”

The grant will be used to hire a full-time museum executive director to continue telling her story.

“There’s that experience of knowing that there are other things out here for us to see of our African American culture,” added Spencer-Hester. “That we exist and the national trust is giving us a chance to share that with the world.”

The Anne Spencer House & Garden Museum will receive $150,000 and the “Whirlwind” Johnson foundation will receive $100,000.

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