Preservationists Race to Save Black History Sites Before They Vanish

From New York to Alabama to Oregon, many tangible displays of African American culture and heritage are in deep disrepair. Due to a lack of recognition and funding, these spaces are slowly being lost before their full story can be told. But a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation will help maintain 27 historic sites that showcase African American perseverance, activism and contributions to the nation. 
The trust’s This Jan. 29, 2019, photo shows homes in Africatown in Mobile, Alabama, established by the last boatload of Africans abducted into slavery and shipped to the United States.“These 27 sites represent examples of Black resilience, activism and excellence. And as a collection, they begin to elevate the historic landscapes and buildings that tell an underrecognized and unappreciated story about the United States,” says Brent Leggs, executive director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.   Over the past two years, 65 historic African American sites received more than $4.3 million to help preserve and restore places that exemplify Black life and cultural heritage.Grant recipient “While We Are Still Here” seeks to preserve Harlem history, including buildings that housed a cross section of Black America. (Courtesy While We Are Still Here)Educator Booker T. Washington and Sears Roebuck president Julius Rosenwald built schools like grant recipient May’s Lick in Maysville, Kentucky, in the early 1900s for Black students in the South. (Mays Lick Community Development Board)The recent Black Lives Matter protests have helped shine a light on the need to restore historic Black spaces. Leggs says the Action Fund has received more online donations, and he is hopeful that current talks with corporations and others will result in large gifts to help extend the Action Fund’s reach and impact. “To be able to preserve these kinds of places help our nation learn more about the complexity and breadth of its own history,” Leggs says. “There’s power in truth, and preservation begins to reveal more of the truth.” 


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