Birmingham Civil Rights District Receives Over $2.6 Million in ARPA Funding

On March 23, the Jefferson County Commission announced that nearly $2.7 million of the county’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds would be dedicated to six organizations in the Birmingham civil rights district to improve their facilities and promote tourism in Birmingham.

Local officials say these improvements have the potential to generate millions of dollars in revenue for Jefferson County.

The district has several historic sites that were central to the nation’s civil rights movement, including the 16th Street Baptist Church, where four girls were killed in a bombing in 1963, and trail markers that follow parts of the routes of the March of the Children of 1963.

“Birmingham is a destination place,” said the Rev. Arthur Price, pastor of 16th Street Baptist Church.

“Just like Philadelphia is for the Liberty Bell. Just like Boston Harbor, where they dumped tea. As well as Ellis Island in New York. Birmingham, Alabama is a destination place to see where world history took place.”

According to a press release from the commission, funds have been allocated for the following projects:

• 16th Street Baptist Church – $900,000 to fund work associated with the creation of an Educational and Visitors Building. The church is expected to break ground on its 150th anniversary in April 2023 and is estimated to be completed in September 2024.

• Urban Impact, Inc. – $320,895.60 – to assist in the creation of a culinary incubator within the National Civil Rights Monument and 4th Ave. shopping district and provide access to business and skills development for entrepreneurs.

• Birmingham Civil Rights Institute: $900,000 to fund work associated with hiring a full-time curator to inventory exhibits, develop content, and implement updates. BCR also plans to modernize existing exhibits and boost outreach by creating a traveling exhibit.

• Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame – $407,506.80 – to create original exhibit content, restore historic textiles to appear in new and existing museum exhibits. It will also help the organization be able to continue its regularly scheduled programming at the Carver Theater for Performing Arts through its Jazz Greats exhibition and educational program.

• St. Paul United Methodist Church: $101,261.40 to help fund a museum-quality resort. The exhibit will feature photographs, letters, newspaper articles and videos to bring the past to life. The project is expected to be completed in February 2025.

• Historic Bethel Baptist Church – $61,980.40 – to help expand its interpretive programs and tour experience by transforming the basement area into a virtual augmented reality tour for all guests.

“This money will return to the community to help revitalize and invigorate our most important community asset, the history of our racial movement,” Commission Chairman Jimmie Stephens said during the announcement.

Commissioner Sheila Tyson spoke on behalf of her district, District 2, which contains the majority of the listed projects.

She said attracting more tourists would have a positive economic impact not just in Birmingham, but across the county and state.

“We have thousands and thousands of visitors that come to a Civil Rights Memorial District destination every year,” Tyson said.

“It has a huge impact in Jefferson County. A study is being done now that will bring a dollar amount of the economic impact that it brings to Jefferson County.”

One organization, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, said they alone bring 200,000 visitors to Birmingham and generate approximately $20 million of local economic impact each year, according to the institute’s website and its president, Isaac Cooper.

In addition to the economic promise these projects bring to the county, Tyson said it’s also important to preserve local history for future generations.

“Preserving our county’s African American history could not only improve educational opportunities for our local students, but it means that millions of visitors over the next decade will be able to learn about the civil rights monument and how group-led nonviolent protests how foot soldiers, clergy and African-Americans and ordinary citizens changed the world,” Tyson said.

According to the commission release, Jefferson County received a total of $127 million in ARPA funds that will be spent by the end of 2026.

In addition to this week’s allocation, the commission also recently dedicated $4 million to health and substance abuse programs, $13 million to home support programs and $45 million to clean water and stormwater projects, the statement said.


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