SELMA, Ala. (WIAT) — The National Parks Service is awarding $1.5 million in grants to preserve civil rights sites in Selma, including the historic Brown Chapel AME Church.

Pastor Leodis Strong says the church was the headquarters for civil rights marches pivotal to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“Bloody Sunday, Turnaround Tuesday, and Selma to Montgomery, all three of them originated here, birthed out of the planning, the strategy sessions, the worship sessions,” Strong said.

It’s one of three places in Selma that Congresswoman Terri Sewell announced will be getting $500,000 grants for preservation, along with Tabernacle Baptist Church and Selma University.

Sewell says the money for the church will help address termite damage and other structural needs.

“We in Alabama’s 7th congressional district — we’re the custodians of America’s history. We don’t own this history, but we are tasked with preserving it and being the caretakers for this amazing history,” Sewell said.

Pastor Strong says the goal is to make the church look like it did 57 years ago. While the renovations deal with structural improvements, he says the project is about keeping the spirit of 1965 alive.  

“When you think of sacred places, they’re reminders of who we are. Our identity. The soul, the spirit, the essence of who we are. So that’s a part of what’s being recognized here. Not just the brick and mortar, but the spirit,” Strong said.

Strong says the economic impact will be big for the small community, as more people are drawn to check out historic places. He says he was thrilled when he found out about the funding.

“Lord have mercy. Hallelujah happy, hallelujah happy,” Strong said.

As the church undergoes renovations for the next year and a half to two years, Strong says services are still happening, just at a different location a few blocks away.