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National Parks Service awards $1 million to preserve Vine City homes connected to Atlanta's civil rights history

The homes are where George Alexander Towns and Grace Towns Hamilton once lived in Atlanta's Vine City neighborhood.

ATLANTA — Two historic homes, built in 1910 and 1956 and sitting in the Vine City neighborhood along University Place, are getting new life thanks to funds from the National Parks Service.

To anyone passing them, it is clear restoring and preserving the homes will be a huge task, but that will now be made possible with the $1 million in grant funds that were awarded to Preserve Black Atlanta. 

The youngest of the two homes sits on the corner of the street. It is where Grace Towns Hamilton lived. She was the executive director of the Atlanta Urban League and the first African American woman elected to the Georgia House of Representatives.

Next door is the house her father George Alexander Towns built and where she grew up.

Towns co-founded the Niagara Movement, a Black civil rights organization, and he was an early member of the Atlanta branch of the NAACP. He was also an educator, author, and community activist, according to Karcheik Sims-Alvarado, the CEO and founder of Preserve Black Atlanta. 

"A lot of times when we think about the civil rights movement we look at Atlanta and we begin to look at the leadership during the 1950s and 1960s," Sims-Alvarado said, before noting the Towns family is part of the city's civil rights story predating that period.

"The civil rights movement had long been in play for more than 100 years beginning with the Reconstruction movement when we start to look at organized efforts of African Americans to secure the passing of civil rights legislation," she explained.

Now in the shadows of a New Atlanta, with the homes sitting just blocks from Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the Towns family history will be restored and preserved using the federal funding. 

Invest Atlanta owns the homes currently and Sims-Alvarado will oversee the preservation work.

"Not only does the historic preservation of buildings help to give people a sense of place and connection to the past, but it also drives significant growth in that it helps enhance real estate values and attracts investment and tourism to a community," Dr. Eloisa Klementich, president and CEO of Invest Atlanta said in a statement.

"It is going to take about two years to restore the property if all goes well. So in a perfect world, it will take about two years," Sims-Alvarado added.

Once the restoration work is complete she hopes the homes can serve two purposes in the Vine City community; physical reminders of African American achievement, as well as community benefit and education.

The result will hopefully allow Atlantans to learn a part of their city's history perhaps once forgotten.

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