Decatur praise house relocated before demolition

In mid-March, a small white building was hoisted by a crane from its location on Emory University’s campus, loaded onto a flatbed truck, and—with a police escort—moved to its new home in Decatur’s Beacon Hill community.

The building is the replica of a praise house that’s an art installation designed to uphold Black histories and narratives “in an effort to address issues of erasure and system inequities,” states the project’s website.

But Charmaine Minnifield—who defines herself as an art activist and who leads the 12-member Praise House Project team that created and oversees the house—described the process of saving the structure, raising the funds, and making the move as a “historic effort” that demonstrates the power of community.

“It’s not just art you look at,” Minnifield said. “It’s an art experience.”

Praise houses were small meeting spaces typically found on Southern plantations where enslaved people held religious services, according to various sources.

Minnifield said she was inspired to create the public art piece after the discovery of 800-plus unmarked Black graves—dating back 150 years—at Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery. A restoration effort of the burial grounds at the cemetery began in 2017 following research and efforts to identify the deceased and their descendants, according to multiple sources.

The white 22 feet long and wide house is 26 feet high and was first displayed on the lawn of Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church at Emory University October through December 2023. Although originally designed to be demolished then rebuilt at each exhibit site, project officials asked if the scheduled demolition could be halted and the house moved instead, Minnifield said. After approval from Emory, but with a tight deadline approaching, Minnifield worked feverishly and within 24 hours raised $100,000 to make the move possible, she said.

Minnifield added that the relocation resulted in a $150,000 savings for the installation at the new site.

Now the art piece sits on land offered by City Schools of Decatur at Commerce Drive and W. Trinity Place, in the Beacon Hill community which was settled by freed slaves after the Civil War.

The move would not have been possible without support from the National Endowment for the Arts, matching funds from DeKalb County, City Schools of Decatur, and builders Synergy Development Partners, she said.

While project officials had planned to have the structure open for the public to experience in late March, the opening has been postponed due to utility and permit issues, Minnifield said, adding that she’s hopeful it will open in April. An artist’s talk is planned for 3 p.m. May 4 during the Decatur Arts Festival.

The Praise House experience is immersive—according to Minnifield—and includes digital renderings of ring shout ceremonies, music, and at night the building glows as images are projected on the building.

Preserving history and honoring memories of ancestors are two goals of the project, according to Minnifield, as well as “looking back to see our way forward.”

After it’s residency in Decatur, project officials expect to move the Praise House to its next site, South View Cemetery in south Atlanta where many Black civil rights leaders, politicians, and business leaders are buried. It’s also the final resting place of victims of the Atlanta 1906 race riot.

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