The Sun-n-Sand Motor Hotel in Jackson, Miss., where civil rights activists gathered in the 1960s. The Savoy Ballroom in Harlem in New York City, where Ella Fitzgerald and the Count Basie Orchestra performed. These, along with many other sites that are integral to Black culture, no longer exist, while others have fallen into disrepair, with little hope of survival. Often the loss or degradation was by design — many were systematically destroyed through racially coded policies like “urban renewal.” Others fell apart because of a lack of financial resources and public support.
Their loss is part of a larger problem: When these African American sites no longer exist, we run the risk of losing a full understanding of American history as a whole.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund is trying to prevent this from happening. Launched in 2017, the fund has raised more than $80 million through partnerships with the philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, the Ford Foundation and others, supporting more than 200 preservation projects across the country. Last month, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the team announced a $4 million investment in preserving 35 historic Black churches that continue to drive change in American society.
“The idea is to create financially sustainable cultural institutions that steward these physical assets, because we have not had representation in the American landscape that tells the Black lived experience,” said Brent Leggs, the executive director of the fund. “Increasing that recognition and representation is a form of cultural equity, and ensuring that these organizations are endowed ensures that these communities have a Black future.”
Here are eight African American historical sites, all grantees of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.
The Buffalo Soldiers are among the most storied soldiers in American military history. Formed in 1866 just after the Civil War, the soldiers — who included the Black 9th and 10th Cavalries and the 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments — served mainly on the Western frontier. Many were former slaves and veterans from the Civil War. They represented the first Black professional soldiers in a peacetime army. Though no one knows for certain how they came to be called “Buffalo Soldiers,” the name is said to have been granted by Native Americans who acknowledged their fierce fighting.