Little Rock’s Dreamland Ballroom Receives $499,668 African American Civil Rights Grant

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Historic 100 year old ballroom frequented by the legends of African American entertainment, wins a major grant to help make the venue handicap accessible.

The U.S. Department of the Interior and the National Park Service (NPS) announced $12.6 million in grants for 51 projects in 24 states that preserve sites and highlight stories related to the African American struggle for equality in the 20th century. The Dreamland Ballroom located at 800 West 9th Street in downtown Little Rock is a recipient of one of these African American Civil Rights grants in the amount of $499,668 for their public access project, which will help make the historic Dreamland Ballroom handicap accessible.

Completed in 1918 by the Knights of Tabor, an African American fraternal organization, Taborian Hall and its Dreamland Ballroom have been a fixture in the downtown community of Little Rock, AR for over 100 years.

In 2017, the Dreamland Ballroom was featured in an award winning documentary by AETN, Dream Land: Little Rock's West 9th Street which detailed the building’s history and connection to the Little Rock African American community.

The ballroom itself played a significant role in the lives of those who were segregated to the 9th street corridor by society at the time. Ninth Street itself was a haven for African American owned businesses and patrons. Taborian Hall housed many African American businesses and professional services. The building’s crown jewel was the Dreamland Ballroom, an entertainment hub for the famous Chitlin’ Circuit, where African American entertainers from around the nation performed. Music legends such as Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Jordan, Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles and many more graced the Dreamland stage.

The building was rescued from disrepair and possible demolition by Arkansas FlagandBanner.com owner Kerry McCoy in 1991. McCoy said, “Everyone said that I was crazy, and I guess they were right. Buying that old building made no sense, but it just spoke to me in a deep ethereal way. I often say that the building chose me as much as I chose it. After we moved in, the old timers would come by and tell me stories about the building and the people that lived and worked around it. I began to recognize that I had a responsibility to record and preserve these oral histories before it was too late. I commissioned author Berna Love to write the Temple of Dreams. The book chronicles the history of this wonderful old building and the place of prominence it held in the early 20th century.”

Realizing she would not be able to afford to restore the Ballroom herself, in 2009 McCoy founded the Friends of Dreamland nonprofit to make the space eligible for grants. She and the board members have worked to restore this significant piece of Arkansas history.

Each year as a fundraiser, the Friends of Dreamland host an event called Dancing into Dreamland. The community support for the ballroom no doubt played a role in the awarding of the grant, which was also supported by 2nd District Republican Representative French Hill.

“It’s wonderful to hear that the National Park Service recognized the importance of restoring the Dreamland Ballroom in Little Rock,” says Rep. Hill. “Kerry McCoy and many others have worked diligently on projects benefiting the historic 9th street corridor. I’m pleased to support Kerry and the Dreamland Ballroom's application for funding to make the building ADA accessible, and I look forward to following Kerry’s continued work to restore the Dreamland Ballroom to her former glory.”

Little Rock Mayor, Mark Stodala, adds, "I am so excited for Kerry McCoy in receiving this grant which will allow the Dreamland Ballroom to be restored and be accessible to all. The Dreamland was critical to the social fabric and nightlife of a great deal of Little Rock's African American residents. This grant will allow historic 9th Street to "live again."

According to a press release from the National Park Service, NPS Deputy Director Dan Smith said, “Through the work and engagement of public and private partners, these grants will preserve a defining part of our nation’s diverse history. By working with local communities to preserve these historic places and stories, we will help tell a more complete narrative of the African American experience in the pursuit of civil rights.”

The Dreamland Ballroom is in the company of other great projects across the nation such as a baseball stadium used by the Negro National League in Paterson, New Jersey; the home of civil rights activist Mary Church Terrell in Washington, D.C.; and the last standing African American officers’ club at Fort Huachuca, Arizona.

Congress appropriated funding for the African American Civil Rights Grants Program in 2016 through the Historic Preservation Fund (HPF). The HPF uses revenue from federal oil leases on the Outer Continental Shelf, providing assistance for a broad range of preservation projects without expending tax dollars. For the second year of this grants program, Congress increased funding from $8 million to $13 million in 2017. The National Parks Service (NPS) is administrator of the HPF.

For more information about the Dreamland Ballroom visit their website http://www.dreamlandballroom.org or contact friends(at)dreamlandballroom.org.

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Matt McCoy
@dreamlandball
since: 02/2010
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