By DANIEL SUDDEATH
NEW ALBANY —
Fallout from the George Zimmerman murder trial in Florida has dominated media headlines and broadcasts in recent days.
As has been well documented, the case in which Zimmerman was acquitted involved claims of racial profiling, and questions have arisen following the verdict as to how different ethnicities treat and think of each other in the United States.
On Tuesday in downtown New Albany, different races came together for a charitable cause.
Black and white people gathered on a street corner in celebration of a project that has strong ties to an era when the color of one’s skin likely meant either freedom or slavery.
They prayed together, and then watched as a crane lifted one of the clock faces back atop Town Clock Church — a moment that marked the completion of an important phase in the restoration project to improve the more than 160-year-old structure.
Friends of the Town Clock Church hosted the event to showcase the replacement of the clock faces as well to highlight the next steps for the project.
The past, as well as the future, occupied people’s minds. As New Albany City Councilman John Gonder said, the steeple of the Town Clock Church served as a beacon of hope to slaves during the Civil War.
Slaves from Kentucky sought refuge at the church as a link in the Underground Railroad, and Gonder said the city and a large group of volunteers are diligently attempting to ensure the building at Main and Third streets remains a part of New Albany’s fabric.
“I think the community has answered in very good order here,” Gonder said, as a group of six men shifted one of the restored clock faces back into its slot on top of the church behind him.
Refurbishing the clock faces was just one of the goals set forth by the Friends of the Town Clock Church when it began raising funds for the restoration project last year.
On Thursday, the city council will vote on the release of $75,000 in funds to replicate and restore the steeple for the building, which is now the home of New Albany Second Baptist Church.
The money was approved in January; however, the city wanted to ensure private funds could be raised to match the contribution before releasing the money.
According to Jerry Finn, executive director of the Horseshoe Foundation of Floyd County and a member of Friends of the Town Clock Church, private funds in the amount of $98,552 have been raised for the project.
And that doesn’t account for the services and construction work donated for the project. For example, Padgett Inc. has provided a crane for work on the church three times at no cost.
“You’re talking an additional I’m guessing $10,000 to $20,000 in in-kind contributions, but we’re not counting those as a match to the city,” Finn said.
Finn said at least an additional $200,000 will be needed to complete other facets of the project, including painting portions of the church and refurbishing or replacing windows and doors.
“We will do it as every dollar comes in,” Finn said.
Mayor Jeff Gahan credited the organization for heading the effort to restore Town Clock Church. Multiple local groups and businesses including Develop New Albany, Indiana Landmarks and Your Community Bank have aided the effort through donations or assisting with work related to the project.
“This is a great example of what volunteerism can do,” Gahan said.
Officials also credited Second Baptist Church for allowing the city and preservationists to come into their building and lead the revitalization effort.
Second Baptist Church is a predominately black congregation led by the Rev. LeRoy Marshall. He led a prayer at the onset of Tuesday’s event, and expressed his gratitude on behalf of the congregation for the work that’s being completed on the church.
A white mayor and an all-white city council are helping restore a building with ties to the Underground Railroad that’s now occupied by a mostly black congregation — a fact not lost on those gathered Tuesday.
Gonder said the effort is about preserving an era in history when some New Albany residents put aside race and fear to do what was right.
“This is not just a project of Second Baptist Church,” Gonder said. “We’re also upholding history, and this is a symbol of hope to our community.”