The recent events in Charlottesville and across the U.S. have sparked a national conversation regarding the preservation of historical monuments. In partnership with The Ford Foundation, The JPB Foundation and Open Society Foundation, The National Trust for Historic Preservation—a privately funded nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C.—is working to advance the national conversation beyond Confederate heritage with the African-American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.
The fund, which aims to uplift and amplify Black voices, seeks to draw attention to “centuries of African-American activism and achievement” while telling the parts of Black history that are too often omitted. Through the Hands-On Preservation Experience (HOPE Crew)—an initiative to foster “a new generation of preservationists”—the National Trust also hopes to empower young people while advocating for neglected communities of color.
“Our nation is incredibly rich in history, but it lacks in the real representation of our full history in everything from textbooks to national monuments, and other treasures,” Brent Leggs, director of the African-American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, tells CASSIUS. “Efforts to preserve places of African-American history and culture are some of the most underfunded, and that’s where we come in. Through the fund we are committed to crafting a narrative that expands our view of history, reconstructs our national identity, and inspires a new generation of activists to advocate for our diverse historic places.”
In addition to the Action Fund, leaders and public figures have come together to form an advisory council. It includes actress and activist Phylicia Rashad, who has publicly expressed her support. Also supporting the multi-year initiative with a $25 million funding goal are the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
Leggs continues, “We want visitors to the Montpelier historic site in Virginia to learn not just about James and Dolley Madison, but also about the enslaved workers there. We also believe more Americans should know the stories and sites of activism and achievement, like Madam C.J. Walker, the first female, self-made millionaire, and her Villa Lewaro estate in Irvington, New York, or the civil rights landmark of the A. G. Gaston Motel in Birmingham, Alabama—two of our national treasures. We have to continue to tell the stories of these places that shape who we are, where we come from, and where we’re going.”
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