Preservation Magazine, Spring 2021

President's Note: The Long Arc of Advocacy

Paul Edmondson

As I look across the work of the National Trust represented in this issue of Preservation, a number of the stories remind me of the value in taking the long view of our engagement in advocacy on behalf of historic places.

Take, for instance, Nicholas Som’s “first look” at Andrew Feiler’s new book documenting Rosenwald Schools. In the early 20th century, one-third of the South’s rural Black schoolchildren attended a Rosenwald School, built through the generosity of philanthropist Julius Rosenwald and the vision of reformer Booker T. Washington. Almost 20 years ago, the National Trust featured Rosenwald Schools on our list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places, and for years we have campaigned to preserve the remaining schools. With the generous support of the Rosenwald family and other donors, we have a dedicated grant fund via our African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund to support these important places. And just this year, advocacy by our government relations team helped advance federal legislation expected to result in a new National Park Service unit focused on Rosenwald Schools and on Julius Rosenwald. Notably, it will also be the first NPS unit honoring a Jewish American.

In his article on the transformation of two dilapidated industrial buildings in Buffalo into a modern incubator for food entrepreneurs, author Joe Sugarman notes that our subsidiary, the National Trust Community Investment Corporation (NTCIC), helped place federal tax credits that made this project viable. But this also is a story that would not have been possible without the National Trust’s longstanding advocacy. The Trust helped pioneer the historic tax credit in the 1970s and 1980s, and—with NTCIC and other partners across the country—we helped save the credit from repeal in 2017. Today, we have joined with many of those same partners to advocate for legislation that would increase the benefits of the credit and make it easier to use for smaller projects. It has taken many years of advocacy to get to this point, but we are closer than we’ve been in decades to updating the credit as a way to advance the nation’s economic recovery.

Lastly, Nate Schweber’s article on the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, Connecticut, highlights our Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios network. We began this program more than 20 years ago as a way of advocating for these unique properties. Today, with lead support from the Henry Luce Foundation, the network includes almost 50 sites around the country. As part of our “Where Women Made History” campaign, four sites added to the network this year focus on the legacies of women artists. Going forward, we will continue to add sites that tell a fuller story of artists who have traditionally been underrepresented for their contributions to our cultural heritage.

Each of these stories illustrates that preservation is often a marathon, not a sprint. There is tremendous value in our ability to keep up the fight over multiple decades. Thank you for making it possible for us to work in this way, and please join me in celebrating the success of our efforts together.

Paul Edmondson is the president & CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Applications for the Telling the Full History Preservation Fund grant program are due December 15, 2021.

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