By MACKENZIE BOUCHER, The Times of Shreveport
SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) — For more than 47 years, a building in Shreveport has stood vacant, as time slowly eats away at the ceiling like a cancer cell taking over a body.
Within these walls live the words of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and many others who paved the way for the civil rights movement.
The ancient Galilee was built in 1877 by freed black slaves and housed the same congregation from 1917 until 1975, when it was closed. Since its closure, it has remained vacant and is now owned by the City of Shreveport.
This church was once the main hub of the civil rights movement in Shreveport and served as a nonviolent meeting place for adults and children. The ancient Galilee taught children how to integrate peacefully into Caddo parochial schools.
King not only appeared once in ancient Galilee, but twice. During one of these visits, he delivered the famous “Galileo’s Speech” in 1958, which would be his first videotaped speech.
In 1962 King made his second and final appearance at Old Galilee, which was commemorated on the historical marker in front of the church.
Today, the historic church stands as a building with a legacy.
“Historicity means that it is not because something is old that it is important, but it is important if it has historical significance. And that significance is historicity,” said Dr. Gary Joiner, chair of the history and social sciences department at LSU-Shreveport.
The 145-year-old building has a meaning that cannot be recreated.
In 2015, the city of Shreveport paid an architect to create a plan to save the historic building, estimating the renovations would cost $1.6 million.
“It is significant that we have taken it upon ourselves to see what needs to be done to preserve this building in itself is monumental,” Shreveport City Councilwoman LeVetter Fuller said.
After seven years, the city of Shreveport and the North Louisiana Civil Rights Coalition are still working to keep this piece of history alive.
“If you don’t keep the memories alive, then all you have is dust,” Joiner said.
Joiner, who is the chairman of the Shreveport Historic Preservation Commission, explained that once the city stabilizes this building, the hope for something bigger is ahead.
“The first step was really acknowledging that it has significance, and we didn’t want to see it fall,” Fuller said. “Then it was about what you were going to do with the building once you saved it from collapsing. So the group came up with the idea of making a museum, a civil rights museum, I think that’s a really appropriate use of the building.
Joiner said: “I want teachers, parents and religious leaders to be able to bring people in and see what happened in Shreveport. I want a child, I don’t care if he’s black or white, I want him to be able to sit next to or on this desk. I want them to hear the story of what he (Martin Luther King Jr.) did here. And understand the fact that what they have today was because of him.
In 2015, this building stood with algae and growth through the walls, but now the Old Galilee looks to a bright future.