The recent article about the upcoming sale of New Tabernacle Fourth Baptist Church is cause for great heartache — and not only for the congregation and its pastor, the Rev. Dr. Francis Covington. This deals another deadly blow to our African-American community that, like this church’s congregation, is rapidly diminishing in downtown Charleston.
This church, originally built in 1859 by an eminent Gothic Revival architect, was almost destroyed by Union troops during the Civil War. After several transitions as an Episcopal house of worship, it was rebuilt in 1904 under the leadership of the Rev. D. J. Jenkins, founder of the Jenkins Orphanage.
Obviously this house of worship is a great historic treasure to maintain in downtown Charleston, and is of huge value and significance to the history and lives of our African-American residents, past and present.
We are losing cultural diversity here at a rate that is astounding and tragic.
Hypocrisy is the current trend here amongst our elite, city officials and developers.
Unfortunately, it took the horrendous tragedy at Mother Emanuel to finally put our African-American residents at the forefront of the city’s priorities; to be concerned, to show consideration, respect for the history and priceless contributions of our African-American community, and — I had hoped — to address and act on the real picture of civil rights and equality here in Charleston.
When I first moved back here in 1979, the downtown neighborhoods were well integrated: Anson Street, Warren Street and Tradd Street, to mention only a few. Also there was a well-built, well-kept project development where Anson Field now stands.
But its residents, African-American families, were forced out and their houses razed because “pollution” on this site was discovered, I guess, many years after the project was built.
Apparently there was no replacement of affordable housing provided for them downtown once the city somehow (rapidly as I recall) took care of the pollution problem. Instead of returning these families and others to new affordable housing at that site, they chose redevelopment for the wealthy: an upscale collection of very high-end (unaffordable) condos and businesses.
There are few other project developments downtown. One behind the post office on East Bay is in deplorable condition.
I am not sure why it is ignored. Another on Beaufain Street is in very good condition. Probably the land is not yet polluted.
However, I would be remiss not to mention the “nod” to an affordable housing project — the ongoing construction of a very small building stuck back near Concord Street, adjacent to Anson Field, way behind the high rise expensive condos facing the river, that will be for a few seniors who are in need of housing they can afford.
This is hardly an equal situation. There will also be a multi-million-dollar museum dedicated to African American history, near this same location.
Not so slowly, but certainly surely, the move is on to make it impossible for the survival downtown of African Americans.
The sale of one of their few remaining downtown churches is due to the necessary and expensive restoration costs this diminished congregation cannot begin to afford.
It is egregious that somehow no one, no group, no wealthy philanthropists, no developers, no other wealthy churches and no city funds can come to their rescue.
This is a crying shame.