Trinity gets $750K civil rights grant to restore historic sanctuary
By Jessica Brodie
ORANGEBURG, S.C.—It’s been the host of leaders from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Thurgood Marshall to Roy Wilkins, and the headquarters of so much of Orangeburg’s valiant civil rights movement in the 1960s.
But Trinity United Methodist Church, Orangeburg, has been deteriorating over the years, the effects of weather and time taking a toll on the historic structure.
Now, thanks to another sizeable grant from the National Park Service Historic Preservation Fund’s African American Civil Rights program, Trinity UMC is poised to begin Phase Four of their multipart facility improvement plan, restoring the sanctuary’s stained-glass windows, repairing the roof, upgrading the electrical system and doing a host of other things to keep this physical remnant of great history alive and well for decades to come.
“It’s been so exciting to see,” said the Rev. Eddie Williams, pastor of Trinity since 2020 who came onboard midway through the renovation project.
Williams, along with Trinity’s Board of Trustees Chair Patricia Lott and Dr. Barbara Bowman, sat down with the Advocate this summer to share plans for the facility, celebrate the new grant and reflect on all the work that has been accomplished over the years.
Williams and his wife were married years ago at Trinity, and to be able to return mid-project and help with some of the work has been a blessing.
“When I started, they were just taking the windows out. It’s amazing to see it now,” Williams said.
Four large grants since 2018
As the church experienced moisture, air conditioning and electrical issues, church leaders started exploring grants and other means to pay for need repairs and renovations. While many grants existed for ministry undertakings, few at the time existed for brick-and-mortar projects like Trinity’s.
But in 2015, they were able to secure a $25,000 grant from the South Carolina Department of Archives and History, which the church matched to fund an architectural assessment of the facility.
“Ours is a historical building, so we were limited on who we could hire to do the work,” Lott said, but they finally were able to select their firm—The Boudreaux Group, in Columbia—and begin the process.
They received their first large grant, $500,000, from the National Park Service in 2018. That sum, along with $100,000 additional funds contributed by church members, installed central heat and air conditioning in the church’s education building, installed a new fire alarm system, and upgraded the church’s electrical system.
In 2019, they received their next NPS grant, again for $500,000 supplemented with $100,000 from church members, which began restoring the church’s historic and much-beloved stained-glass windows, as well as tackling more building and masonry restoration from ongoing water damage.
The stained-glass windows were important not only to Trinity and its members but to the UMC as a whole; Bowman and Lott said the church is thought to hold the record in the South Carolina Conference for the greatest number of stained-glass windows, and many were donated in memory or in honor of past church leaders who played a significant role in expanding God’s kingdom in Orangeburg and beyond.
The third grant was received in 2022, again for $500,000 supplemented with $100,000 more, and that work is going on now, including continued restoration of the windows and structural waterproofing.
The latest grant, announced in June, is for $750,000 to continue the stained-glass work, including repointing, as well as to upgrade the electrical system and repair the roof.
“It was hard work,” Bowman said about the process it took to write the grants, which she, Lott and others on the church’s grant committee took on.
“But it’s important to people,” Lott added. “A few members remember when this church was being built.”
Trinity, which began construction on its current sanctuary in 1928, was completed in 1944 and is on the National Historic Registry. The church was established in 1866 and build its first sanctuary in 1870, four blocks southeast of the current structure.
Bowman said the church played a huge role in the city’s civil rights movement. Not only did well-known civil rights leaders speak there, but it was a hub for people to regroup, eat and gather.
“People would have marches downtown, go to jail, then come back to Trinity and eat here,” Bowman said. “The congregation was very, very supportive of it, and the pastor then was the president of the NAACP.”
While the church was always well-maintained, age creates problems, and Trinity members are grateful they were able to secure the needed funds to do such restoration.
“Stained glass is almost a thing of the past,” Lott said, noting they have something precious to care for, something many churches don’t have anymore. “The windows are dedicated to members and families.”
Now, they said, the windows are able to shine light into the sanctuary brilliantly, and it’s easier to read all the historic names on them.
“You can better see everything,” Williams said.
Work on the education building is now complete, they said.
And they all look forward to witnessing the completion of Phase Four, and being a part of all the exciting work the church will continue—now and into the future.
Speaking in June as he announced the recipients of the NPS Historic Preservation Fund’s African American Civil Rights grants, Congressman James E. Clyburn said the continued dedication to preserving the history of African Americans in South Carolina and beyond brings him great pleasure.
“It is imperative that we continue to protect and celebrate the places, people, and stories of one of the greatest struggles in American history,” Clyburn said.
To learn more about the NPS Historic Preservation Fund’s African American Civil Rights grants, visit https://www.nps.gov/subjects/historicpreservationfund/african-american-civil-rights.htm.