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$1.7M in federal funds to restore Maine's oldest Black church building

The money will help complete the final phase of the Abyssinian Meeting House's ongoing restoration project.

PORTLAND, Maine — Those behind the preservation of a centuries-old piece of Black history in Maine are shocked by the announcement that $1.7 million in federal funding is headed their way. 

"We're ecstatic for the community," Pam Cummings said. "We finally get the chance to show you what we have been so passionately working and caring about for the last 25 years."

That is how long the effort, spearheaded by Cummings' sister and family, has been going on to restore the Abyssinian Meeting House on Portland's Munjoy Hill.

This new money is a much-need boost that Cummings said will allow the committee behind the restoration to complete the final phase of the project.

The building was first built in the 1800s by freed African Americans, just years after the state was founded. It is believed to be Maine's oldest Black church building and the country's third-oldest. 

Some of the people who once sought refuge and community there were former slaves and leaders of the Underground Railroad. 

"I just wanted to see the opportunity to move it across the finish line," Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) told NEWS CENTER Maine. "We have a complex history related to slavery and African Americans, but this is a vital part about our abolitionist history and how Maine worked to end slavery." 

Pingree was among those who supported the funding as part of the "omnibus" funding package. 

Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins co-authored the Housing Appropriations bill that allocated the money to the meeting house. 

“As one of the oldest African-American meeting houses in the United States, the Abyssinian is a cultural landmark that preserves an integral part of our nation’s history as well as African-American heritage in Maine,” Collins said in a statement. 

This new money comes after the nationwide Black Lives Matter Movement reignited interest in the project over the last few years. 

Cummings said thousands of dollars in donations have poured in from across the state and the country. 

"So if it really does matter, let's make it matter," Cummings said.  "That's what they've done. They've shown us it matters. This history matters."

Much of the structural work on the building has been completed, including new windows, doors, and framing to bring the building back to its original design.

Cummings said the final phase will include finishing the basement, adding restrooms, and completing meeting spaces and a learning center. 

The goal is to create a place where people from all walks of life can come together, learn about the past, and make a difference in the future. 

"One of the things we always say is we're still standing, but we're not standing still," Cummings said.

To learn more about the project you can visit AbyssinianMeetingHouse.org.

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