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Crumbling historic black church to get new look

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CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) -

Rotted wood, holes in the wall and on the verge of collapse. The United Missionary Chapel in downtown Charleston sits empty in DeReef Park on Morris Street. Once a prominent structure in the black community, it will soon get a makeover.

"Its going to crumble unfortunately," said Dana Campbell, member of Friends of DeReef Park.

The City of Charleston plans to renovate the church and members of the organization, Friends of DeReef Park are there to make sure its done correctly.

"Saving it as park would be the ultimate goal but in the meantime if its too late, if we could somehow preserve the chapel. That's what I would like to do," said Campbell.

DeReef Park was named after Joseph and Richard DeReef. They were free multi-racial men and their tax records show they were slave owners. At least one of their parents was of Caucasian and Native American descent. The brothers were among the wealthiest free men of color in Charleston. Richard DeReef was even appointed to the Charleston City Council in 1868.

Heather Templeton, chair of Friends of DeReef Park is an advocate of historic preservation.

Templeton said, "It was a vibrant community that people worked hard to create a beloved place for themselves and we think its important for the city to recognize what kind of activities went on in this area."

Along with the newly moved chapel the city plans to put 33 single family homes on the land and a small park. That doesn't sit well with the friends of Dereef Park, but Tim Keane, Charleston Director of Planning said, once the chapel is renovated, it will be great for the neighborhood.

"That will be the gem of the project. The church building and its new location will be completely restored. Its very important,"said Keane.

There are historical landmarks all around DeReef Park. A block away people walk by an empty building that's on the lot of where the Brooks Motel once stood. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stayed there when he visited Charleston.

"I think if you don't document those and the struggles that people went through for their children and their grand children then those memories are lost then future generations don't aspire to be greater, don't aspire to have freedom," said Templeton.

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