The newest list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places has been announced. Included, is Roberts Temple Church of God In Christ, a Chicago landmark that encapsulates the Black community’s ongoing fight for freedom and equality, the place where Emmett Till’s body was laid bare for all to see.
In 1955, from September 3-6 loved ones and onlookers gathered at Roberts Temple to see a disfigured Till in an open casket. Today the church has severe structural issues and according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is only minimally used by the congregation. To ensure that the treasured sanctuary remains intact, the organization is raising awareness, which will hopefully raise funds, for a building they say is in need of rehabilitation funding and partnerships.
Roberts Temple was canonized in the pages of Life, as well as other national publications after Mamie Till-Mobley, the mother of Emmett Till, insisted that mourners be able to see the condition of her teenage son who was shot in the head, whose body was mutilated in Mississippi, and then thrown in the Tallahatchie River. The 14-year-old was lynched after being accused of whistling at a white woman, who later recanted her story. An all-white, all-male jury, acquitted the men responsible for the gruesome crime they later confessed to. At a time of heightened racial tensions, the preservation of this historic landmark feels more pressing than ever.
“It is at times like these when cultural treasures mean the most,” said Paul Edmondson, President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation in a statement shared with ESSENCE. “They remind us of what we have accomplished as a people during other periods of struggle, they mark the pathways we have traveled as a nation, and they remind us of who we can become if we work to realize the promise of our society. When so many are questioning the way forward, historic places have the power to reveal the possibilities of our future.”
The National Trust believes the 11 sites represent an “architectural and cultural heritage” that could face irreparable damage or be destroyed altogether if immediate intervention is not taken. They hope that by including these historic places year after year, people will see their importance and be motivated to take action. “These 11 Most Endangered Historic Places demonstrate that there is a great urgency to ensure that we preserve and revere the places that tell the full, true history of the United States,” said Katherine Malone-France, the Trust’s Chief Preservation Officer. “In a time of challenge in this country, preservation represents a kind of optimistic reinvestment in our nation that can give hope to communities and bring people together.”
Also on this year’s list is the National Negro Opera Company House in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The structure was built in 1894, and served as the headquarters for the National Negro Opera Company, the nation’s first Black opera company, established by Madame Mary Cardwell Dawson in 1941. Lena Horne was just one of its distinguished guests.
Malone-France sees preservation as a way of coming together and “reaffirming our commitment to each other.” She hopes that others will also view it as a tangible way in which we all can demonstrate respect for one another’s contributions to our shared heritage as a country. “As dedicated supporters seek to restore vibrancy and vitality to these places,” Malone-France adds, “they enrich our communities, our economy, and our culture.”