The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently donated $20,000 to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, a cultural and educational research center in Alabama.
Elder Peter M. Johnson, a General Authority Seventy, met with BCRI Board President Isaac Cooper on Friday, June 19, to present the donation on behalf of the Church. Other BCRI directors and local Church leaders were also present.
“This prestigious organization does a lot of good in the community,” said Elder Johnson, who served as a young full-time missionary in the Alabama Birmingham Mission and later as a stake president and Area Seventy in the area prior to his call as a General Authority Seventy.
“We felt this donation would help them continue to preserve that important history and continue to educate folks and to update some of their technology, so that they can continue to move forward.”
Elder Johnson continued: “Just to recognize their good work, how they have captured the past, and what we do to move civil rights forward, and also to educate people now so that we don’t have to repeat the evils of racism of the past — it’s a way to educate us, to help us understand how to have those important conversations.”
Though not originally planned to be given on Juneteenth, “we are so grateful that we had the opportunity to present the donation on this historic day,” he said.
Margie Westenhofer, Alabama Birmingham Coordinating Council communication director, said she and Elder Johnson have been working for several months to develop a relationship with the BCRI. It began with talking about family history.
“It was mainly through the Freedmen’s Bureau indexing project,” she said. “Those records represent the beginning of those civil liberties and human rights. To me, that was the bridge from us to them.”
The Church’s donation will go to improving technology resources and replacing outdated computers, she said. “This is the first step in what we hope to be a long relationship.”
Elder Johnson added, “This is just a first in how we plan to help and support this organization. This is not a one-time thing.”
Located in a historic part of the city across the street from the 16th Street Baptist Church, the BCRI’s mission is to “enlighten each generation on civil and human rights by exploring our common past and working together in the present to build a better future,” according to its website.
Elder Johnson and Westenhofer were interviewed by WBRC FOX6 after the donation.