Goal 7: A Truer History

Expand interpretation and truth telling at historic places to reflect an inclusive and multilayered shared history to advance justice and equity.

By connecting places with the past, preservation illuminates chapters from our shared history. Today we are recognizing how many stories have been forgotten, covered up, or erased. The role of historic places in presenting a more accurate, inclusive, and multilayered narrative of the past has never been more important.

We can deepen our understanding of how historic places contain complex, overlapping, and sometimes painful pasts. New interpretive frameworks can re-introduce familiar sites and offer insights into contemporary issues. Oral histories and community participation can highlight intangible heritage and reclaim significance for demolished sites.

Collectively, the rediscovery and re-interpretation of historic places can foster new understanding and add urgency to efforts to achieve greater equity and social justice.

McDonogh 19/Leona Tate Foundation for Change, New Orleans, Louisiana

photo by: Justen Wiliams

Leona Tate stands in front of McDonogh 19 School in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Crowdsourced Actions

A few highlights of the suggested crowdsourced actions generated during focus groups are paraphrased below to stimulate conversation and further brainstorming. The source of each idea is indicated in parentheses at the end of each suggested action. If you would like to add a suggested action to this list, please email us at nationalimpactagenda@savingplaces.org.

  • We need to find ways for people in our country to step into the shoes of others to empathize. But the way that our history has been written in America doesn’t represent all of the narratives that can be represented or shared. Preservation is a way to recognize sites and buildings that can help to tell that story. (Source: African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund focus group)
  • Reach out and connect with BIPOC and LGBTQ groups to record intersectional histories and spark dialogue. Interpretation and preservation efforts must be intersectional avoid being presented as segregated efforts. (Source: LGBTQ and BIPOC heritage professionals focus group)
  • Document and find ways to recognize demolished buildings that may or may not have been razed as part of displacement particularly related to communities that have been historically marginalized. (Source: LGBTQ and BIPOC heritage professionals focus group)
  • Work across organizations to remove systemic barriers (including existing biases and lack of cultural competency focus group) that currently inhibit efforts of historic sites to shine a light on inclusion and equity issues. (Source: Historic sites and museums focus group)
  • Encourage national accreditation programs to strengthen guiding standards around inclusion and equity. (Source: Historic sites and museums focus group)
  • Elevate the importance of oral histories in capturing stories of people who are still here. Collect oral histories from the older queer community and from those living in the south and rural communities. (Source: LGBTQ and BIPOC heritage professionals focus group)
  • Focus on indigeneity as the root and foundation of our story. Recognize that not all of us chose to be Americans. Face up to the bad things too. It is part of our history. We must acknowledge our imperial past. (Source: Pacific Islander heritage professionals focus group)
  • We also need to preserve some of the ugly places that remind us of places of trauma, discrimination and resistance. (Source: Asian American heritage professionals focus group).
  • There is a lot of intangible heritage in the [preservation] trades, think of stories that could relate to the “Truer History.” (Source: Architect Focus Group)
  • We need to get these individuals who are on the margins and put them in the forefront instead. Highlight the work that other individuals are doing, not just the mainstream. (Source: Asian American heritage professionals focus group)
  • In terms of innovation what about the stories we have to share that are not connected to a specific building (intangible heritage). Would like to see new model of preserving stories and spirit and people (e.g. Berkley South Asian Radical History Walking Tour). Look at different models that are not all based in buildings. (Source: Asian American heritage professionals focus group)
  • Context of war is important to us, which also connects to climate change as another kind of struggle. How our communities immigrate, settle and are impacted by war. Those studies need to be shared—for example, studies about the redevelopment of the past 50 years. Could the NTHP help to convene communities around these stories and shine a national spotlight on them? Need the context narrative, otherwise sites are just disparate properties that are not connected. Need to look at history in a different context. (Source: Asian American heritage professionals focus group)
  • Many historical societies were founded to perpetuate the story of selected individuals. That gives them a 200 year start in many cases. To compensate, we need to value other kinds of records – oral traditions, folkways, and other cultural history. (Source: Historic sites and museums focus group)
  • Revise standards of local property marker programs to align more with cultural significance; diversify from only recognizing buildings built by white people, which happen to be the buildings built to the highest standard. Predominately white preservation organizations need to realize they can’t go around marking other peoples’ histories. (Source: PastForward listening sessions)

Case Studies

We hope the case studies below will inspire and inform your work in preservation. To reflect a fuller spectrum of the preservation movement as it continues to grow, we will continue to crowdsource and add additional examples over time. Please send additional case study ideas to nationalimpactagenda@savingplaces.org.

  • The Charleston Justice Journey is an interactive map of sites associated with Charleston’s march towards racial justice hosted by the Preservation Society of Charleston in South Carolina. The clickable map features short videos and information about featured sites.
  • The Naknek Cannery History Project is a collaboration between the Alaska Association for Historic Preservation, public historians, the cannery owner, and community residents to gather and share stories about the diverse and often overlooked cannery workers-many of whom originated in places like China, Mexico, Japan, Italy, the Philippines, Scandinavia, the American South, and Alaska-whose essential activities and history are reflected in the century-old Dimond NN Cannery at South Naknek, Alaska.
  • The Abuelas Project of Latinos in Heritage Conservation launched in the Summer of 2021 as a digital preservation project to identify, document and broadly share previously underrepresented stories about places that matter to the Latinx communities in the United States and Puerto Rico, honoring our grandmothers as the keepers of heritage and knowledge.
  • In Franklin, Tennessee the city’s Fuller Story project has erected a bronze statue of a United States Colored Troops soldier in the downtown square where a confederate monument has stood since 1899, along with five markers that tell stories of the African American experience in Franklin as part of an effort to change how Franklin’s story is told to visitors and future generations.
  • The JXN Project, which recently won Historic Richmond’s 2021 Golden Hammer Award for “Best Placemaking”, is a research-based reparative historic preservation non-profit organization dedicated to driving restorative truth telling and redemptive storytelling by capturing the pivotal role of Richmond, Virginia, and in particular Jackson Ward, and recontextualizing its origin story as the nation’s first historically registered Black urban neighborhood. This origin story includes excavating, elevating, and educating others on the lesser-known life, legacy, and lineage of Abraham Peyton Skipwith, the "Founding Father of Jackson Ward" as its first known Black homeowner in 1793 — years prior to the ward's gerrymandered beginnings in 1871.
  • New groups like the Mexican American Civil Rights Institute, founded in 2019 in San Antonio, Texas, are working to uncover and share stories that have previously not been shared. The Institute is sharing stories of “the rights of individuals to receive equal treatment and be free from discrimination including in the areas of education, employment, voting, housing, public accommodations, immigration, economic opportunity, as well as on the basis of race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexuality, and more” for the Mexican American Community through historic markers, public programs, teacher workshops, and online exhibits.
  • The Texas Freedom Colonies Project is an educational and social justice initiative dedicated to supporting the preservation of Black settlement landscapes, heritage, and grassroots preservation practices through research. It includes a searchable digital atlas to find and add freedom colonies to the map.
  • On the Farnsworth House’s 70th anniversary, the National Trust for Historic Preservation renamed this historic site in Plano, Illinois the Edith Farnsworth House.  This rededication recognizes the formative role that Dr. Edith Farnsworth, the woman who commissioned and owned this home, played in collaborating with architect Mies van der Rohe in designing the home as well as recognizing her other significant personal accomplishments.
  • The Alabama African American Civil Rights Heritage Sites Consortium’s “Voices of Alabama” uses video oral histories along with photos and maps to tell stories about the consortium’s twenty historic sites through different first-person perspectives.
  • The Japanese American Confinement Education Act (JACE Act) is federal legislation that would permanently reauthorize the Japanese American Confinement Site (JACS) program within the National Park Service (NPS). This program has been one of the primary resources in the preservation and interpretation of the U.S. Confinement Sites where Japanese Americans were detained during World War II. This legislation would authorize $38 million in renewed funding, as well as a separate, five year, $2 million per year program to establish and disseminate educational materials about Japanese American confinement. Since 2009, 247 projects have received over $32.8 million. Funding has gone to 22 states plus the District of Columbia.
  • To increase awareness of those who have died trying to cross the border from Mexico to the United States, the Migrant Trail Organizing Committee has organized a 7-day walk on the 75-mile long Migrant Trail from Sásabe, Sonora, Mexico to Tucson, Arizona since 2004. In addition to raising awareness, this pilgrimage honors those who have died, builds community, pursues social justice and helps produce positive social change.
  • The Sikh American History Project is working to document centuries of Sikh American history residents in the United States to create a deeper understanding of this part of the American story and encourage the preservation and promotion of Sikh heritage in America.
  • The Monument Lab’s National Monument Audit assesses more than 50,000 monuments across the United States as part of an effort funded by the Mellon Foundation’s Monuments Project to “transform the way our country’s histories are told in public spaces and ensure that future generations inherit a commemorative landscape that venerates and reflects the vast, rich complexity of the American story.”

Next Steps: Commitments to Action

We are focused on developing an assessment tool and resources for the National Trust and other preservation agencies, organizations, firms, and leaders around the country to evaluate their existing and future initiatives and shed light on how these goals can further align with the priorities identified in the crowdsourced Leading the Change Together. We aim to share more in the coming months and to provide opportunities for preservationists to showcase their initiatives and leadership in redefining the U.S. preservation movement today. Please check back for updates.

Each year, America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places sheds light on important examples of our nation’s heritage that are at risk of destruction or irreparable damage.

See the List