Real State

A New Initiative to Protect Black History Starts with Coltrane

The American jazz musician John Coltrane bought a three-story brick rowhouse in Philadelphia’s Strawberry Mansion neighborhood in 1952, using it as his primary residence or a stopping point when on tour until he died in 1967.

“I remember playing the upright piano in the home,” said Ravi Coltrane, 58, the son of Coltrane and his second wife Alice Coltrane, an acclaimed harpist. “My father wrote a lot of music on that piano in the 1950s. He composed ‘Naima’ on that piano and many of the pieces he recorded on the album ‘Blue Train’.”

The rowhouse was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1999. But in recent years, the condition of the rowhouse has deteriorated and is currently in need of major repairs and restoration.

On Tuesday, the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, announced that the rowhouse will be the first site to receive financial support through a new initiative called the Descendants and Family Stewardship. The action fund will assist in coordinating and financing the transfer of Coltrane’s home from its current owner back to his family. The extended Coltrane family has strong ties to the rowhouse: Coltrane’s mother, first cousin, childhood friend, and eventually Juanita Grubbs, his first wife who also was known as Naima, lived with him when he first bought it. And his mother and cousin lived there permanently. After Coltrane’s death in 1967, the home remained in the family for many years; his cousin, Mary Alexander, owned the house until 2004.

“These funds are very vital and very much needed for any repairs and restorations. We certainly hope within the next few years to completely stabilize the home and foundation,” said Ravi Coltrane, a saxophonist and recording artist who lives in Brooklyn. “We are all on board with the mission of opening the house to the public and having it there in the community as something symbolic of what John Coltrane was able to do there, which is to be a beacon for the highest possibilities of creative achievement.”

The transfer of the home will be completed in partnership with the Friends of the John and Alice Coltrane Home, a nonprofit that manages the home the couple owned in Dix Hills, N.Y., on Long Island, according to a news release from the action fund.

The action fund, in partnership with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, has pledged to spend $5.2 million to establish the stewardship initiative which aims to protect spaces that have too often gone neglected and underrecognized.

“Descendants and families have been doing this work for centuries on an informal basis. The initiative is about empowering descendants and families through historic preservation more formally,” said Brent Leggs, executive director of the action fund. “Our role is to give them the resources and technical expertise they need to protect and preserve the physical evidence of the past and share their profound stories with the American public.”

Only 2 percent of the 95,000 sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places center on the experiences of Black Americans, according to the action fund. The fund was founded in November 2017 to help address the disparity.

“It is exceptionally important as we grow the U.S. historic preservation movement and advance values of equity and inclusion that the future of this movement be sustained through the engagement and leadership of descendants and families,” Mr. Leggs said. “They are critical to the future of our work to expand the American narrative and to build a true national identity that reflects America’s diversity.”

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