History at face value (Updated)

Antioch-2014-01

Former Antioch AME Church, Jan. 2014.

Decatur, Ga., blogger Dan Whisenhunt has been covering the impending demolition of a former African American church by a developer who proposes to build 20 townhomes on the site. Built in 1965 by Decatur’s oldest African American congregation after it was displaced by urban renewal, the building housed the former Antioch AME Church until 1995.

The church was not included in Decatur’s 2009 citywide historic resources survey despite widespread knowledge of its transcendental historical significance among the city’s longtime African American residents. Whisenhunt has been reporting on residents in nearby homes – many of them built during and after the 1960s urban renewal project – concerned over the new density coming to the parcel as well as the developer’s plans to cut down an old tree on the property to comply with City stormwater detention requirements.

Whisenhunt repeatedly has omitted key facts about the property’s history and Decatur’s African American residents’ attachment to it. In a post that went live today on his Decaturish.com site, Whisenhunt reported that he obtained City documents about the development’s regulatory reviews through a Georgia Open Records Act request.

Whisenhunt’s post reported that Decatur Planning Director Amanda Thompson authored “emails to city officials” about the property’s historical significance. Whisenhunt wrote:

There was some question about whether the church site is historic. The church property is formerly the site of Christ Covenant Church, but prior to that it was the home of the Antioch African Methodist Episcopal Church, the first black church established in the city of Decatur. The church was established in Decatur in 1868 and moved to Hibernia, then called Atlanta Avenue, in 1965. The church relocated to Stone Mountain in 1995. Thompson researched the issue.

“The 2009 Historic Resource Survey included this structure in the Adair Park neighborhood, and it was determined to be non-contributing,” Thompson wrote in an email to city officials. “That means it was not considered a historic resource in 2009.”

Adair Park is an ahistorical label applied to the neighborhood in the vicinity of the former Antioch Church. Neither the 2009 survey final report nor the inventory forms produced for the area mention the former Antioch church nor do they evaluate it under the National Register of Historic Places Criteria for Evaluation.

According to the 2009 report, 323 properties were surveyed in Adair Park. The final report summarized the Adair Park area:

Adair Park summary. City of Decatur Historic Resources Survey Final Report, Sept. 1, 2009, p. 19.

Adair Park summary. City of Decatur Historic Resources Survey Final Report, Sept. 1, 2009, p. 19.

The capsule description lacks any discussion of historical developments after c. 1940. Also omitted in the report are discussions of the African American community partially displaced in 1940 and finally eradicated between 1960 and 1965. Because of Adair Park’s apparent lack of historical significance, the City’s consultant only included a small sample of property inventories in the final product released to the public and posted on the City’s website.

There is insufficient information in the report and in the 21 inventory forms to determine why the former Antioch AME Church was not individually evaluated or why it was assigned a “non-contributing” status (i.e., was determined to be not historic). Two other Adair Park churches  were included in the inventory forms: “Kidist Mariam Ethiopian Orthodox Church” (c. 1945) and Lilly Hill Baptist Church (c. 1952).¹

Whisenhunt in his latest post on the church appears to have taken the City’s documents released to him at face value. Meanwhile, the developer is moving forward with its plans to demolish the church and with it one of the last ties to Decatur’s rapidly vanishing African American past.

Former Antioch AME Church prepped for demolition, April 2, 2014.

Former Antioch AME Church prepped for demolition, April 2, 2014.

NOTE:

  1. Although the former Antioch church site was less than 50 years old, the generally accepted antiquity threshold used to designate local and federal historic properties, most municipalities, counties, states, and federal agencies evaluate all properties within a survey area to determine if they meet designation criteria, including the criteria for the designation of recent past properties (those less than 50 years old).

UPDATE

Apr. 3, 2014. Before this post was published I emailed Whisenhunt asking if he could point to where the City had evaluated the former Antioch Church using the historic resources survey cited by Decatur Planning Director Amanda Thompson. Whisenhunt didn’t reply to my email and when I made the same request along with a link to this post on the Decaturish Facebook post linked to his original Apr. 2 post my comment was deleted and I was blocked from the page. In October 2013 Whisenhunt deleted all of my existing comments from his Decaturish site and blocked me from leaving further comments.

April 2, 2014 email from David Rotenstein to Dan Whisenhunt.

April 2, 2014 email from David Rotenstein to Dan Whisenhunt.

© 2014 D.S. Rotenstein

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