by Paul Bowers
It might not look like much today, but the little white chapel on the grounds of Dereef Park was once the site of an African-American praise church — we think. The empty building has played a central role in debates about the future of the downtown park, where a developer plans to build a cluster of housing units in the next few years. People from the neighborhood say that the church was once used by the type of congregation that sprang up in black communities in the years following the Civil War, but the truth about the property has been tricky to pin down. Some county records indicate it was built in the late 1800s; others show a building permit for the property being issued in 1943. Today, the church's wooden slats show signs of rot and painted-over graffiti, a legacy of years of disrepair. The developer plans to renovate it and convert it into housing units, but some of the neighbors have been looking into securing grants to preserve the entire park as either a historic site or a green space.
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