National Trust and Benjamin Moore Honor Women’s Impact on American History
This month, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, in partnership with Benjamin Moore, announced plans to restore two buildings that honor the significant contributions of diverse women to American progress. Azurest South in Petersburg, VA, was designed in 1939 by Amaza Lee Meredith, one of the country's first Black female architects; and the McDonogh 19 Elementary School in 9th Ward of New Orleans, LA, was one of the first schools integrated in New Orleans after the landmark 1954 Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education.
Both projects are part of the National Trust’s Where Women Made History campaign and a continuation of the collaboration between the National Trust and Benjamin Moore launched in 2020 with the interior restoration of the Women’s Building in San Francisco, CA, and the exterior transformation of the Odd Fellows Building in Astoria, OR. Support from the National Trust and Benjamin Moore for these sites of women’s achievement and empowerment comes during a critical time of global pandemic and economic uncertainty in which women across the country are in crisis.
Christina Morris, manager of the Where Women Made History campaign for the National Trust, said, “The women whose stories are preserved in these places embody the spirit of the Where Women Made History campaign. These are women who pushed beyond the boundaries of what they were told was acceptable or even possible. We owe them an enormous debt for establishing the essential—but often unseen—foundation that lifts up women and girls today and gives them the freedom to pursue their own dreams.”
“It is a privilege to be able to preserve several historic sites with significant roots in women’s history,” said Jeannie West, Benjamin Moore Senior Vice President of Human Resources. “Together with the National Trust, we’ll pay homage to these female trailblazers who helped shape us into the nation we are today.”
The National Trust’s Where Women Made History campaign is designed to address the centuries of gender inequality that have led to the erasure of many pivotal stories of women’s history, creating an inaccurate perception of their fundamental role in shaping American identity. These inequalities have been laid bare over the last year of the COVID-19 pandemic, with its disproportionate and devastating effects on women, particularly women of color, who were forced to shutter their businesses and who became unemployed at a rate four times higher than their male counterparts. Through the Where Women Made History campaign, the National Trust plans to raise and invest $10 million in philanthropic support to elevate and preserve 100 places across the country where women of all backgrounds, ages, beliefs, and identities have made history.
In addition to the four Benjamin Moore projects, the campaign is active on many other fronts, conducting a nationwide crowdsourcing effort that garnered over 1,200 formerly unrecognized places where women made history from across all 50 states; adding new sites related to women artists to expand the diversity and representation in the National Trust’s Historic Artists Homes and Studios program; providing grants to directly support dozens of projects and places of women’s history around the country; creating the first all-female HOPE (Hands-On Preservation Experience) Crew projects to empower the next generation of female preservationists and craftspeople through the restoration of women’s history sites; sharing the stories of groundbreaking female leaders in Preservation magazine; and taking action to save nationally-significant places of women’s history, such as the San Francisco, CA, home of LGBTQ+ civil rights pioneers and activists Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, Natalie de Blois’s spectacular Terrace Plaza Hotel in Cincinnati, OH, and the National Historic Landmark Harada House in Riverside, CA, where Sumi Harada played a critical role in a lawsuit that allowed Japanese Americans to own property in California and later provided a safe haven for Japanese Americans who had been forcibly relocated to incarceration camps during World War II.
In partnership with Benjamin Moore, the two new sites announced this month highlight the impact African American women have had on American history.
Architect, educator, and artist Amaza Lee Meredith designed Azurest South in 1938 as the lifetime residence and personal studio for herself and her partner, Dr. Edna Meade Colson. Ms. Meredith also is credited with establishing and running the Fine Art Department at Virginia State University (VSU) for over two decades. The home is now owned by the VSU Alumni Association. Benjamin Moore will provide approximately 150 gallons of paint to help with restoration work on both the interior and exterior of the small but stunning Moderne property, and we hope to include students in the VSU Fine Art Department in the project to carry Amaza Lee’s legacy forward to the next generation.
McDonogh 19 Elementary is one of two historic sites in the 9th Ward of New Orleans, LA, where school desegregation first took place. On November 14, 1960, three six-year-old girls - Leona Tate, Gail Etienne, and Tessie Prevost - made history when they climbed the 18 stairs to enter the then all-white school. On the same morning, Ruby Bridges integrated William Frantz Elementary. These four girls became the first African Americans to integrate formerly all-white schools in the Jim Crow Deep South and have since been known as the "New Orleans Four."
Closed in 2004, the McDonogh 19 Elementary School is currently being transformed by the Leona Tate Foundation for Change, Inc. as a mixed-use facility, that, in addition to senior housing, will feature education and exhibition space dedicated to the history of New Orleans public school desegregation, civil rights, and restorative justice. The building is being renamed the Tate Etienne & Prevost Interpretive Center.
Both sites are expected to be completed by summer 2021, and their progress and transformation will be documented with photos and videos that will be released later this year.