Home » Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum secures National Grant for Preserving Black Churches

Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum secures National Grant for Preserving Black Churches

by Community Contributor

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has awarded the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum (SSAAM), Central New Jersey’s first dedicated Black history museum, a $50,000 grant from the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund’s Preserving Black Churches project. This significant grant recognizes the museum’s commitment to preserving and sharing the history and cultural heritage of African Americans in the Sourland region from the trans-Atlantic slave trade to the present day.

The Preserving Black Churches grant will be used to support SSAAM’s “We Shall Not Be Moved: Celebrating the Legacy of Mt. Zion AME Church” initiative. The project aims to commemorate and honor the rich legacy of the National Historic Register-listed Mt. Zion AME Church, which will celebrate its 125th anniversary this year, by bringing exhibits, lectures, and cultural programming to the public.

“When I was a small child, I distinctly remember napping on my Grandmother’s lap at the Green Street Baptist church in Selma, Alabama. I spent summers there which meant that we spent long hours in church each weekend. Church was our second home. When civil rights activists came to Selma, they stopped at the now legendary church, across the street from my Grandma’s house where she offered meals, lodging and compassion to folks as they passed through to fight and die for our rights as humans, and as Americans. The Black Church has been a bedrock in the Black American experience,” says SSAAM Executive Director, Donnetta Johnson

Mt. Zion AME Church has been central to the lives of the African American community in the Sourland mountain. The fully restored, one room church, on the SSAAM campus that includes the historically African American True Farmstead, was home for Black congregants on Sourland Mountain and visitors from surrounding communities for well over 100 years. “When you walk in, you experience a sense of the powerful history instantly. It feels so familiar, so calming. There are a bounty of rich, powerful stories reflecting the joy, hope, struggle, resilience and sorrow of the people that gathered to worship within those walls,” says Johnson.  The structure was carefully restored in 2022. With this grant award we will engage our community to bring more stories to life through music, history reenactments, community teach-ins, and storytelling from a nearly disappeared people once so vital to the cultural and economic life and landscape of the Sourland mountains. 

Preserving Black Churches grants are highly competitive. This funding cycle, the National Trust for Historic Preservation will invest $4 million dollars in 31 historic churches, selected from more than 550 proposals. SSAAM is honored to be among this distinguished cohort of grant recipients.

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