In recognition of Juneteenth, the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund (AACHAF) announced 3.8 million in funds would be granted this year among 40 different African American U.S. sites. The AACHAF is the largest fund dedicated to supporting and preserving historic sites in the U.S. that represent African American history such as locations like homes, museums, centers, schools, and more.
One of the sites to receive funding was the United Order of Tents Eastern District No. 3, the oldest Black women’s fraternal organization in the U.S. The funds will be used to preserve their historic headquarters at the mansion home located at 87 MacDonough Street in Brooklyn’s Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood.
The AACHAF is the largest U.S. fund dedicated to preserving African American historical sites. It is a program within the National Trust For Historic Preservation, first created in 2017.
In a press release, they announced the other new elements of the grants include a focus on conserving Black modernist sites designed by Black architects and further preserving HBCUs.
The funding for the United Order comes after there was widespread news coverage earlier at the end of last year about the leaders’ ongoing fight to preserve their location at the Bed Stuy mansion as it was reportedly facing various financial hurdles and disrepair of the property.
Action fund awards range from $50,000 to $150,000 per site. However, it is unknown how much funding the organization received and how far it will be able to go toward preserving the site.
The United Order of Tents were founded by two formerly enslaved Black women, Annetta Minkins Lane of Norfolk, Virginia and Harriet R. Taylor, of Hampton, Virginia. According to the website, the group was founded in 1847. Other reports date the official incorporation of the organization to have come later in 1867.
The organization existed as one of the various secret societies created by freed Black people during enslavement for the purpose of fighting for liberation and providing support to other Blacks. Some of their early work included caring for the elderly, burying the dead, and helping enslaved Black people obtain freedom.
As it was illegal for groups of Black people to congregate in New York State, they would have to function in secrecy and hold meetings in tents, which is where their name is derived from.
Chapters existed across the North and the South in states like Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York with its height reaching 50,000 during the 20th century. Their work included providing food, shelter, and nursing for members of the community.
Today, the group has a continued emphasis on social issues, community service and Christian values and is looking to become a non-profit.
“Our mission is to care for the sick, comfort those in distress, bury the dead, provide a home for the aged and infirmed women and the orphans of deceased women of all races and nationalities. In addition, uplift fallen or less fortunate women and [uphold] women to the highest standards of Christian living and to strive to achieve for women high standards within our nation. To work with and encourage young girls to achieve their maximum potential in society,” a statement from the website reads.
The group is currently looking for support in adding membership. According to a New York Times piece in December, membership had increased from only eight women to up to 24 recently, with “tents as young as 25.” The website lists an application that one can fill out.
The site at MacDonough Street was first built in 1863 and became the headquarters of the organization in 1945. The mansion, also referred to as their Meeting House, is where they would historically hold meetings and discussions on issues and ways to further their activist work, in addition to using it “to perform their ceremonies and rituals that signified their sisterhood.” They still use the site today, however only at “certain times of the year” as a result of its current physical state.