Like many Black churches around the country, the historic Brown Chapel AME Church in Selma, Alabama, had to close its doors to in-person service during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, when people returned, they found the landmark church that launched a national voting rights movement overrun by termites. The Associated Press reports that Brown Chapel is now included on the Most Endangered Places list.
Church member Juanda Maxwell stated termites had eaten so much wood that parts of the structure weren’t stable anymore, and mold was growing in parts of the building. “It’s in horrible shape,” said Maxwell. “It’s a tough time. Because we were closed for a year, it exacerbated the problem with water coming in.”
“This National Historic Landmark and internationally known civil rights site of pilgrimage (is) unable to serve as a community resource, welcome guests, or host national events,” the trust wrote.
“During the 1960s the church became known throughout the world for its role in the Voting Rights Movement, that brought about the ‘Bloody Sunday’ confrontation with state and local law enforcement, and the subsequent march from the church to the state Capitol in Montgomery,” says the church on its website. “It is the only building remaining of the work of A.J. Farley, an early 20th Century, Black builder from Dallas County.”
Brown Chapel, the first African Methodist Episcopal church in Alabama, was the site of preparations for a voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery on March 7, 1965. Its website says that the church was admitted into the AME organization in 1867. The first frame structure was erected on the present site in 1869 and re-erected in 1908.
Maxwell is part of a group of Brown Chapel members serving on a foundation trying to raise money for repairs estimated to exceed $4 million, she said. The National Park Service already has provided a grant of $1.3 million to restore the church and declared a National Historic Landmark in 1997.