Trust for Public Land Raises Urgency to Protect Black History
Trust for Public Land (TPL) is taking bold action to identify and accelerate the preservation of nearly 60 public spaces of historical and cultural significance to Black communities across the country.
Of the nearly 100,000 places included in the National Register of Historic Places, only three percent tell the stories of the Black American experience. In the United States, the approach to identifying, preserving, and interpreting historic places has long reflected the country’s complicated racial—and racist—past and present. It deprives us of a full understanding of the story of America and presents the grave risk that many of the most important places in Black American history and culture will be lost to rapid development or neglect.
To address this threat, Trust for Public Land is urgently working to ensure the Black American communities that built and cultivated this country are justly honored and remembered through the conservation of stories and places. “We have an enormous opportunity to expand the field of Black historic preservation, moving beyond the stereotypical narratives rooted in racism, slavery, and pain to tell a more complete history that highlights the resistance, self-determination, and joy of African Americans,” said Dr. Jocelyn Imani, TPL’s national director of Black history and culture. “We need more public spaces where Americans—specifically Black Americans—can take their families and leave feeling proud.”
Combining national resources with the expertise of local partners, TPL is part of a growing movement of organizations, funders, philanthropists, and Black communities to recognize and put more sites on the map that preserve Black history and culture. Many sites with cultural and historic value are under threat, facing rapid development, natural decay and deterioration, and the loss of individuals and descendants who can speak to their importance. TPL and partners are working to preserve, create and activate sites like this, including:
- Emmett Till Campus/Sustainable Square Mile: Blacks in Green (BIG) has conceived of community development in terms of the Sustainable Square Mile, an economically self-sustaining walkable village designed to build Black wealth and power. TPL is supporting BIG’s efforts to create a series of 16 gardens across Chicago that honor luminaries of the Great Migration. The first of these is the Mamie Till-Mobley Forgiveness Garden, a converted vacant lot that not only offers a place for healing and respite, but also features a first-in-America Prairie Rainwater Parkway Garden, revolutionizing green infrastructure norms.
- Medgar and Myrlie Evers home: The Evers were both activists in the Civil Rights Movement and targets of racist violence. Medgar, one of the first national civil rights leaders assassinated, was killed outside of his home in 1963. The home located in Jackson, Mississippi, is now undergoing preservation efforts and continues to be a symbol for civil rights and social justice issues.
- Prince Hall Masonic Temple: This historic Atlanta building used to house the offices of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference and WERD, the first Black-owned radio station in the US. Partners are beginning the work to restore the building and incorporate voices of community members and the Civil Rights Movement.
- Rosewood Museum: The future museum will be designed as a place of remembrance and education to honor the victims, survivors and descendants of Rosewood, Florida, a vibrant Black community of 300 before it was destroyed in 1923 by a racist massacre by white perpetrators.
- Stringer’s Ridge Cemetery: Nearly lost to history, this rediscovered field cemetery is the final resting place of at least two U.S. Colored Troops veterans and Alfred Blount, the first Black man lynched from the Walnut Street Bridge in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
“Even with the successful completion of these projects and others, there is still more work to be done to address the immense disparities that remain in our nation’s history and historic sites,” shared Keith Weaver, Trust for Public Land national board member and chair for TPL’s Black History and Culture Advisory Council. “Saving these irreplaceable spaces requires specialized expertise to identify and map existing and future sites; to leverage extraordinary amounts of public funding; and to build grassroots partnerships to validate that Black historic sites truly honor and enrich their surrounding communities.”
To continue this dialogue and further rally support for preservation, Trust for Public Land is hosting a celebration of Black history and culture with the Nearest Green Distillery in Shelbyville, Tennessee on April 14 with future partners in conservation and industry supporters. The distillery’s namesake, Nearest Green, was a formerly enslaved man who taught Jack Daniel distilling in the 1800s. His story is another one among the American Black experience that has been largely untold – only until recently. The Nearest Green Distillery is helping to ensure his legacy and this important chapter in American history is never forgotten.
Celebrating its 50-year legacy, TPL is continuing to embed equity in everything we do, from closing the park access gap to preserving sites that represent Black history and culture, to ensure our nationally protected outdoor places tell the full American story. “Land has meaning. Historic places tell our story and connect us to the truth in tangible, relatable ways. And if we continue with business as usual, these sacred—and joyous—spaces representing the Black experience will be vulnerable and maybe even lost forever,” said Diane Regas, president and CEO of Trust for Public Land. “But everyone has a role to play in building a more equitable future, by celebrating, visiting, and learning from these historic and critical public lands.”