June 1, 2023

This Juneteenth, Preserve Black History in Your Own Backyard

In an interview for Preservation magazine, Elizabeth Alexander, president of the Mellon Foundation, said, “I think one of the most crucial steps [to saving more African American historic sites] is building a diverse field of preservationists. It is also critically important that we chart a clearer path for African American Studies students to engage in cultural preservation and public history work.” Today, just one percent of the nation’s preservationists identify as Black, and diverse preservation organizations nationwide face challenges in securing the necessary resources to protect Black cultural memory.

As we commemorate the upcoming 2023 Juneteenth holiday—the day in 1865 when Union Army General Granger issued General Order No. 3 ordering the freedom of over 250,000 enslaved people in Texas—the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund has curated resources to encourage individuals to get involved in the preservation of Black historic places and narratives.

“As our nation celebrates Juneteenth, it is critically important for all Americans to celebrate the meaning of freedom at historic places representing the pursuit of a more just society,” says Brent Leggs, executive director of the Action Fund and senior vice president of the National Trust. “We hope that this resource-filled toolkit will spark your curiosity to explore the history of Black American contributions to American history.”

1. How to Conduct an Oral History Interview

One of the best ways to get started on preserving your history is by collecting oral history interviews with your own family. Lawana Holland-Moore, director of fellowships and interpretive strategies for the Action Fund, pulled together essential tips to do this work, along with a variety of organizations and resources for more information.

2. Webinar Series: Discovering Our Ancestors and Preserving Historic Gravesites Series

Presented in partnership between the National Trust’s Preservation Leadership Forum and the National Center for Preservation Training and Technology (NCPTT), this three-part series provided essential information and resources on preserving historic cemeteries and gravesites. Part I featured nationally recognized cemetery expert and landscape architect Everett Fly and members of the National Trust for Historic Preservation discussing the latest developments on cemetery ownership and access, along with recent relevant legislation.

Part II provided participants with a list of genealogical tools and resources available for conducting research for the necessary documentation on historic gravesites. Speakers for Part II included Barbara Barksdale from the friends of Midland Cemetery and the PA Hallowed Grounds Project, Gaynell Brady from Our Mammy’s LLC, and Jason Church from NCPTT.

Part 3 of this series “Beginning to Care for a Gravesite” takes place on June 21. You can register here.

3. 10 Ways to Research Your Home's History

Often the best way to get started with preservation is to look at your own home and understand its rich history. This Preservation Tips & Tools list provides those just getting started with some basic steps on “reading” your space for clues on the individuals and families that might have come before you.

4. Preserving African American Historic Places by Brent Leggs

Published in 2016 to help local advocates preserve African American historic sites, especially those individuals new to preservation, the National Trust published this basic primer, Preserving African American Historic Places. This 24-page publication introduces the world of historic preservation and explains some of the key players and processes that make preservation happen. It presents an overview of traditional preservation networks and their roles, offers tips on how to get preservation underway in your community, and looks at the various legal and financial tools that help protect historic properties.

5. Resources to Dig Deeper

Preservation Leadership Forum, the professional membership program of the National Trust, developed a resource list for those working to preserve Black history. While not comprehensive, this is a robust collection of mapping projects, context statements, organizations, podcasts, and stories documenting the different ways that Black history is being preserved and shared.

Preserving African American Places
Growing Preservation's Potential as a Path for Equity

Under the auspices of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund and funded by the Ford Foundation and The JPB Foundation, the National Trust for Historic Preservation published Preserving African American Places: Growing Preservation's Potential as a Path for Equity. This report seeks to elevate emerging ideas, research, observations, and questions on the critically important issues of equitable development, social justice, and the practice of preservation.

6. People Saving Places & Case Studies

Finally, to help you further understand why this work is so important, we’ve gathered a series of stories of people who looked around their neighborhood, schools, homes, and more and said, “This is a place worth saving.”

Portrait of Angela Lee, Hayti Heritage Center

photo by: Cornell Watson

In 2022, Angela Lee received the Emerging Leaders in Historic Preservation Award for her work as the executive director of the Hayti Arts Center.

An image of man sitting to the left of the photograph with his hands crossed in front of him, elbows leaning on a surface. The background is blurred out but looks to be a park with some trees in the background.

photo by: Carletta Girma

In his book, author and poet, Clint Smith describes his journey connecting place and Black history across the United States and Senegal.

  • How the Word Is Passed: A Conversation with Clint Smith: “For many people, history is not about empirical evidence. It is not about primary source documents. It is about a story that they have been told. And it is a story that they tell, it is an heirloom that is passed down across generations, across family, across community.”—Clint Smith

Donate Today to Help Save the Places Where Our History Happened.

Donate to the National Trust for Historic Preservation today and you'll help preserve places that tell our stories, reflect our culture, and shape our shared American experience.

While her day job is the associate director of content at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Priya spends other waking moments musing, writing, and learning about how the public engages and embraces history.

Related Stories

Join us in protecting and restoring places where significant African American history happened.

Learn More