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History Day at Peoples AME Zion Church

"Let us make chariot wheels of our difficulties and ride to victory."

- Church motto, on the cover of a Peoples AME Zion pamphlet from the 1940s.

Julya Guins-Clark and Juanita Sales, who are church trustees, were there early, moving tables and chairs, making coffee and setting up. They brought three folding display panels of memorabilia put together by a member of the congregation, laid out laminated newspaper clippings and treasured commemorative booklets. They used an easel for a decades-old, enlarged photo of noted local painter Falstaff Harris.

Last Saturday, Peoples AME Zion Church on South Salina Street invited older church members to a History Day focused on the church they'd once outgrown and left in the mid-70s, known at mid-century as Syracuse's "Freedom Church" for its active role in the Civil Rights era. Held downstairs in the church's social hall from ten o'clock until four, History Day was a relaxed affair. There was hot coffee, a choice of chocolate or lemon cake, and no hurry to leave once you sat down and started chatting. Guins-Clark stepped out for a meeting upstairs at one point for an hour or so and midday the choir practiced in the sanctuary above; afterward some young people came down to inspect the displays too.

History Day was part of a research project to support writing an application for national historic landmark designation for the old Peoples' church at 711 East Fayette. Project organizers have been collecting material, perusing old church records and recording oral histories for several months and, before that, began meeting last spring to find a way to save the old Peoples. Over the intervening months, the Peoples Committee to Save 711 East Fayette picked up more supporters and more steam.

National historic designation and the urban location of the old Peoples would make 711 eligible for restoration funds from a number of sources. In November the NYS Preservation League awarded a grant of $6,000 through PACNY (Preservation Association of Central New York) to gather the material and write that application, at the same time surveying some 85 other post-Civil War or "second generation" AME Zion Churches in the state to create a template for others who may decide to take similar action. The deadline for the next cycle in the applications process is March 1st.

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