National Park Service Underrepresented Community Grants Help to Tell the Full American Story

By Special Contributor posted 07-30-2020 11:30


By Christine Grubbs and Tom Cassidy

In early July, the National Park Service (NPS) announced the FY 2019 grants for the Underrepresented Community Grant Program, a competitive grant program that helps to protect and interpret the sites that tell the stories of all Americans. This small, but significant program was created to better recognize places of  African American, Asian American, American Indian, American Latino, Native Alaskan, Native Hawaiian, LGBTQ, and women’s history. 

The Underrepresented Community Grant Program is funded through the Historic Preservation Fund (HPF), the principal source of federal funding for implementing the nation’s preservation programs. The HPF provides core funding for State and Tribal Historic Preservation Officers (SHPOs and THPOs) as well as several competitive grant programs, including the Underrepresented Community Grant Program. SHPOs, THPOs, federally recognized Tribes, Alaska Native groups, Native Hawaiian groups, and Certified Local Governments (CLGs) are eligible to apply for Underrepresented Community grants. 

As our nation struggles to reconcile the difficult moments in our history and create a more inclusive future, this grant program can be used to identify and protect the places that tell the stories of all Americans.  


The NN Cannery History Project was created to preserve the stories of the diverse and often under recognized cannery workers who labored at the old NN Cannery, Alaska’s most important salmon fishery. This grant was used to nominate the Diamond NN Cannery Maritime Historic District to the National Register and organize a Digital Storytelling Workshop in Naknek with Bristol Bay High School students.” Credit: Alaska Packers Association Records, Center for Pacific Northwest Studies Archive, Western Washington University, Bellingham, Washington.

Underrepresented Community Grant Program Overview

Administered by the NPS, the Underrepresented Community Grant Program was catalyzed with $500,000 in the FY 2014 Interior Appropriations bill. Last year, Congress increased this funding level for the first time to $750,000, and the FY 2021 Interior Appropriations bill reported in mid-July from the House Appropriations Committee would provide $1 million to this program. Since its creation, the Underrepresented Community Grant Program has awarded more than $3 million to 79 projects in 32 states, the District of Columbia, and the Federated States of Micronesia. 

This competitive grant program supports projects to survey, inventory, or nominate new sites or amend previous listings to help diversify the National Register of Historic Places (National Register) and National Historical Landmarks (NHLs). The grant program responds to an earlier NPS study that found less than 8% of sites listed on the National Register or as NHLs represent “underrepresented communities.” 

As an example, multiple grants have been awarded to better recognize the sites and stories of African Americans. It is critically important for the preservation community to elevate and preserve the enormous and important contributions that African Americans have made to our nation, and the Underrepresented Community Grant Program can be used for this purpose. For example, one of the first grants in FY 2014 supported a project of the Montana State Historic Preservation Office to research and nominate sites related to the African American experience in Montana. On July 16, the National Trust’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund provided an award to the Montana State Preservation Office to create a documentary film that will offer a comprehensive and insightful narrative of Black experience in the state. Other Underrepresented Grants have supported projects to survey Rosenwald Schools in Virginia, nominate Historically Black Colleges and Universities in Alabama, create an African American history and achievement heritage trail in Memphis, Tennessee, amongst others. 

Many grants have also gone to better document and preserve important tribal sites. For instance, in FY 2014, the New Mexico Preservation Division received nearly $60,000 to complete two projects: 1) led a Tribal Symposium to explore Pueblo historic preservation and cultural resources issues, and 2) developed a software program that would make it easier for tribes to record eligible or listed historic resources. More recently, in FY 2018, the Pala Band of Mission Indians received a grant that will enable them to survey, inventory, and prepare a National Register nomination of the Cupeño traditional cultural landscape and ancestral territory. Since the program was created, more than 25% of grants funds have been awarded to survey, document, and nominate Native American sites. 

For the past six fiscal years, the Underrepresented Community Grant Program has been an important funding source to help tell a fuller American story.  The National Trust and its partners will continue to advocate for increased funding for this significant program.

Exterior of one of the buildings at Fort Snelling
Fort Snelling Historic District National Historic Landmark Update Project, Minnesota – Caption: “The original designation of the Fort Snelling Historic District National Landmark in St. Paul, MN, focused on military history and failed to tell lesser known, but significant, stories about Native American, African American, and Japanese American peoples. The FY 2015 grant helped make the designation for both the National Register and NHL listings more inclusive. Fort Snelling is a National Treasure of the National Trust. | Credit: Philip Prowse

Recent Underrepresented Community Grant Awards

FY 2019 awards will support 18 projects in 14 states, plus the District of Columbia and the Federated States of Micronesia. Within this, six tribes received funding, including the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria and the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians in California; the Sac and Fox Nation in Oklahoma; the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation in Utah; the Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians of Washington in Washington; and the Stockbridge-Munsee Community in Wisconsin.

Multiple grants also went to support projects to survey and nominate sites of African American history. These projects include:

  • The Newtown Conservation Historic District in Florida;
  • National Register Nominations for the Orsel & Minnie McGhee House and the Sojourner Truth Homes Public Housing Complex in Michigan;
  • Natchez Outbuilding Multiple Property Submission in Mississippi;
  • Oregon Statewide African American Multiple Property Submission in Oregon;
  • Survey and National Register Nominations for Seatack and L & J Gardens in Virginia; and
  • African American Historic Context for Wyoming as a Multiple Property Documentation Form in Wyoming. 

Additionally, women’s history sites were recognized by two grants: Historic Context Study of Women’s History and Suffrage in DC and LGBT Site Nominations Project Phase 4: Nomination of Women’s History Sites in New York. 

Remaining grants included sites related to Filipino American, Micronesian, and Asian American heritage  

Preparing for Future Applications

When applications become available, the NPS issues a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) with applications typically due 60 days later. While the timeline is not fixed, for reference, last year the NOFO was issued in mid-October and applications were due in mid-December. The next round of funding will provide $750,000 in grants. Please consider collaborating with your SHPO, THPO, federally recognized Tribes, Alaska Native Groups, Native Hawaiian groups, or CLG to apply for the FY 2020 grant cycle and advance the stories that tell a richer American story.

Christine Grubbs is an associate manager and Tom Cassidy is a vice president in the Government Relations and Policy department at the National Trust for Historic Preservation