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Historic African American neighborhoods

  • 1.  Historic African American neighborhoods

    Posted 09-07-2019 10:56
    9/7/19

    This is Gylbert Coker writing. I am the Ex. Director of the Mitchell Young Anderson (MYA) Museum in Thomasville GA. The museum stands in the historic African American neighborhood of Stevens Street. It was registered with the Trust in 2001. The other night I was in Tallahassee Florida joining about 60 citizens at their City Hall protesting the destruction of part of an old African American neighborhood where they not only tore down buildings but also cut down centuries old oak trees. We were hoping to stop the city from destroying the other area of this old neighborhood.
    Here in Thomasville, this historic neighborhood is in the process of being erased. Thomasville has received funds to renovate and remodel the downtown area. This neighborhood is part of this renovation and people with money are moving in tearing down old buildings and putting in new contemporary houses.
    I contacted Melissa Jest who manages documentation of African American locations, museums, and cultural organizations in the south. She said that while she was unaware if there were any specific studies identifying how many African American neighborhoods were being destroyed or "erased" it was her understanding that it was being done at a rapid pace.
    I would like to know, from a historic perspective, if a neighborhood registered as historic remains historic when it has been renovated and transformed from an African American neighborhood to a middle and upper middle income white community? I know when you renovate or repair an historic building you are questioned whether the changes you are about to make will alter the historic aesthetic of the building. Does the same hold true for neighborhoods?
    Finally, I am wondering if anyone on this blog happens to know if there are articles written or being written about the destruction or "erasing" of historic African American communities. Thank you

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    Gylbert Coker
    Mitchell-Young-Anderson Museum, Inc.
    Thomasville GA
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  • 2.  RE: Historic African American neighborhoods

    Posted 09-09-2019 09:49

    I am not too familiar with the particulars of this project, but what I heard is inspirational and (in my opinion) award-winning-even if it hasn't won any awards.

     

    https://www.sarasotafl.gov/government/planning/newtown-history

     

    Harry Klinkhamer

    Historical Resources Manager

    City of Venice

    941-486-2490

    hklinkhamer@venicegov.com

     

    Venice Museum & Archives

    http://www.venicemuseum.org/

    City of Venice

    http://venicegov.com

     

    Cities need old buildings so badly it is probably

    impossible for vigorous streets and districts to

    grow without them....

    – Jane Jacobs from The Death and Life of Great American Cities

     






  • 3.  RE: Historic African American neighborhoods

    Ambassador
    Posted 09-09-2019 16:08
    Hi Gylbert. I am not very familiar with historic African American neighborhoods, so I can't be very helpful there, but I am familiar with low and moderate income neighborhood revitalization projects using public funding programs like HOME and CDBG. The way those typically work is that the neighborhood infrastructure (streets, water, sewer, sidewalks, drainage) will be installed, improved, or upgraded. As for the structures, they will be addressed on a case-by-case basis and repaired, reconstructed, or replaced, based upon an objective structural analysis. Each homeowner would have to agree to the improvements and would be allowed to retain title to their home in return for agreeing to reside in, and maintain, the home for a period of time.

    If the revitalization project is done correctly, no involuntary displacement of neighborhood residents would occur. However, you describe that the city  has received funds to renovate and remodel the downtown area, so what is planned may not be a neighborhood revitalization project.  If the city is looking to expand the boundaries of downtown and to develop a public facility like a park, community center, government building, parking garage or other amenity that benefits the entire community, they may be looking, as municipalities have done throughout history, at locating the project in an area that costs the least to acquire and has the least ability to fight the project's location.

    So, to sum up, I would say that if it is a neighborhood revitalization project it should be done in a way that improves the neighborhood, but does not destroy the existing historic fabric.  If it is a community development project, the city should be required to demonstrate why the area selected is the one best suited, not just the cheapest with the least amount of political clout.

    ------------------------------
    Jim Sparks
    Sparks Architecture
    Glasgow, KY
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  • 4.  RE: Historic African American neighborhoods

    Posted 09-10-2019 09:19
    9/10/19

    Thank you Jim Sparks,

    I understand, in a pedestrian way, what you are telling me. I can actually step outside the museum door here and look at the renovation that is taking place in this town and see what you are saying. I have no control over the transition taking place in the town. I am concerned that as the renovation moves into this area that what makes it historic will be erased. The best I can do is protect the historic value of this building and perhaps the building next door (which is also a legacy of the family that owned them)

    Respectfully,

    Gylbert Coker

    ------------------------------
    Gylbert Coker
    Mitchell-Young-Anderson Museum, Inc.
    Thomasville GA
    ------------------------------



  • 5.  RE: Historic African American neighborhoods

    Ambassador
    Posted 09-10-2019 12:49
    Hey again, Gylbert. What I was trying to say in my long-winded way, was that displacement of the residents of a neighborhood with historic designation can be fought in the case of actions taken by municipalities using public funds. The public funding programs utilized in neighborhood revitalization or community development projects trigger requirements to prevent displacement, issue public notices, hold public hearings, and participate in state clearinghouse review, which allows SHPO to become involved.

    On the other hand, displacement resulting from market forces (gentrification) is more difficult to fight. I'm sure there are many examples of neighborhoods organizing to fight gentrification, but the only one that comes to mind is going on in south Los Angeles. Searching "LA fights gentrification" will get you there.

    ------------------------------
    Jim Sparks
    Sparks Architecture
    Glasgow, KY
    ------------------------------



  • 6.  RE: Historic African American neighborhoods

    Posted 09-10-2019 09:43
    Hi Gylbert -
    You might reach out to Dr. Andrea Roberts at Texas A&M University.  She founded the Texas Freedom Colonies Project and is doing some amazing work. According to the web site, "The Project documents how former slaves built whole communities after emancipation and identifies what planners, preservationists, and social justice advocates might learn from our first African American placemakers and their descendants."
    More here:  http://www.thetexasfreedomcoloniesproject.com

    Also, The Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation in Houston might be a good resource.  This neighborhood is facing similar redevelopment and gentrification issues that Thomasville is wrestling with.  https://www.fifthwardcrc.org

    Good luck!  I spent some of my career in south Georgia and it will always have a special place in my heart.


    ------------------------------
    Brannyn McDougal
    Port Arthur TX
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  • 7.  RE: Historic African American neighborhoods

    Ambassador
    Posted 09-10-2019 12:53
    Edited by Jamesha Gibson 09-10-2019 12:58
    Hi Gylbert,
    Yes, just as an individual property listed on the National Register can become "threatened"or lose its status, so, too, can a historic district, like Stevens Street, if a large portion of its contributing structures are demolished or significantly altered outside of the Secretary of Interior's Standards (here are two articles about Savannah and Annapolis that discuss this further). Unfortunately, federally recognized districts, like their individually designated counterparts, are only provided protection via regulatory review if a project/development is headed or sponsored by a federal agency or financed by federal funds. However, if a project/development is headed by a state or local government entity or is financed using state or local funds, and the historic district is not listed on a state or local register; it will not come under the protection of regulatory review on that level, regardless of its federally recognized status (for more information, please see this NPS link on national vs. local listing). Is Stevens Street Historic District listed on the local historic register? If not, if any of the contributing structures in the district are on the local register, they may be eligible for protection.

    I'm not sure if there are publications (current or forthcoming) documenting the erasure of African American historic neighborhoods. But I think the National Trust's Research and Policy Lab and African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund were working on a study that focused on "the connections between preservation, affordability, and risk of displacement in historically African American neighborhoods." Does anyone know when the deliverables on this study might be available?

    I hope this helps,

    ------------------------------
    Jamesha Gibson
    ------------------------------



  • 8.  RE: Historic African American neighborhoods

    Posted 09-14-2019 16:26
    9/14/19
    Jamesha Gibson,

    The articles on Savannah and Annapolis are just sad. How do city council persons rush to take money renovate/redevelop African American communities that are historical and bring in tourists and then become upset because you may lose the title of being historical. How does that make sense? It is just shameful. Can anyone imagine going to Rome and discover that the Italians have decided to tear down the Colosseum to put up coops? They would never consider that. Why do we? Visitors do not come to towns to see Walmart or eat at Popeye's.
    After Katrina white people in New Orleans thought they would use that hurricane as a way to remove all African Americans until they realized without their contribution there would be no New Orleans. New Orleans would become Baton Rouge and who goes to Baton Rouge?
    Thank you
    Gylbert Coker

    ------------------------------
    Gylbert Coker
    Mitchell-Young-Anderson Museum, Inc.
    Thomasville GA
    ------------------------------



  • 9.  RE: Historic African American neighborhoods

    Posted 09-11-2019 10:49
    Greetings Everyone:
    I am the Executive Director of the Howardville Community Betterment. A small rural African-American community in the Missouri Bootheel (far south as you can go).  The community was designated a fourth class community in 1953, its highest population grew to 500 in the 70's. An all black school was built in 1957, erected in 1958 in time for the fall classes.  It housed educated and graduated all black students from 1959 - 1968. It was listed to the Missouri register 8/17 and the national register 11/22/2017.  It was designated based on an act that flew in the face of a supreme court decision to integrate in 1954. The community itself is historic, many of the first homes still stand, including the founder of the community, Travis B. Howard. Systemic racism involving redirecting of resources requires citizens to use creative methods to sustain self created and implemented projects. It is truly an egregious cancer sore, that stands as a united solid brick wall that prevents the preservation of buildings and communities that has contributed to the perseverance of the will of the people. The majority of the assistance has come from Federal grants, (EPA) when it was environmentally friendly. It is  very easy to reach out, yet, extremely hard to reach in. We must continue to do all that is within our power, keep the passion and pray for the acceptance and equality of a destitute people, who struggle to simply exist and live decent.  People who work in preservation understand this. God speed to all.  I love this group.

    ------------------------------
    L Vannessa Frazier
    Howardville MO
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  • 10.  RE: Historic African American neighborhoods

    Posted 09-12-2019 08:29
    Gylbert: This situation is occurring throughout the traditionally African- American neighbors throughout urban Miami:  West Coconut Grove, Little Haiti, Brownsville, Overtown.
    In the case of Little Haiti, activists have brought a lawsuit against the City; in the case of West Coconut Grove, historic designation was utilized to prevent further gentrification but not all homeowners agreed with designation and appealed.  In the Brownsville neighborhood, my organization, Dade Heritage Trust, is working with stakeholders to find funding for a survey.
    In Miami, due to property values and climate change issues, many investors are looking to these areas for redevelopment.  We are continuing to propose designation as a tool to preserve and enhance these diverse, significant neighborhoods, education residents about designation and debunking the myths. There is little, for us, that can be done without citizen engagement and political will. Google The neighborhoods I mentioned and you will find several articles.

    ------------------------------
    Christine Rupp
    Executive Director
    Dade Heritage Trust, Inc.
    Miami, FL 33131
    chris@dadeheritagetrust.org
    305-358-9572
    305-910-3996 (cell)
    ------------------------------



  • 11.  RE: Historic African American neighborhoods

    Posted 09-12-2019 12:01
    Hi all,

    Designation and surveys are great tools to address marginalization and underrepresented communities.

    Please also consider taking that data, once you have it, and placing it on a map. Any such map will not only serve as a tool for visitors to become familiar with your neighborhood's historic value, but it can also serve as a place to deposit additional layers, such as scientific data about your local environment to use for climate resilience planning, but also depending on your ability to open the map to crowdsourced data, it could also serve as a community archive where current and past residents can add information about their sites of significance.

    This has implications for community planning and development, better emotional human health and belonging outcomes and climate and cultural resilience benefits. I am doing research on this topic and am eager to find others to talk with about it. Let me know if any of you are interested in a discussion about mapping. It will be a great tool for us going forward though at present it is not certain that the tools we really need are yet available. Exciting!!!

    Kobi, CA
    Archivist of the Boston Architectural College
    Student of Heritage

    ------------------------------
    Kobi, C.A.
    Archivist and Student
    Boston Architectural College
    ------------------------------



  • 12.  RE: Historic African American neighborhoods

    Posted 09-12-2019 16:49
    9/12/19

    I don't know where this is going to be placed here but it is meant to address your last two messages. (1) my last message to you was meant to read "hello" not "hell" LOL (2) if this is going to be your dissertation it will be awesome and you should publish a book or work with someone to do a documentary. (3) thanks for the information, I'm on it.

    ------------------------------
    Gylbert Coker
    Mitchell-Young-Anderson Museum, Inc.
    Thomasville GA
    ------------------------------



  • 13.  RE: Historic African American neighborhoods

    Ambassador
    Posted 09-13-2019 00:25
    Edited by Jamesha Gibson 09-13-2019 00:30
    This is a very engaging discussion, and in light of some of the broader themes brought out here, I think it's imperative to ask some deeper questions. For example:

    Why does "erasure" and/or the threat of resident displacement seem to be a recurring and chronic trend, not only for historically African-American neighborhoods, but also for many other neighborhoods of color that are economically and socially marginalized?

    Are the goals/needs of the residents in these neighborhoods only to preserve the built heritage and the official history (stories/memories) of said built heritage? Or are residents striving for a more "present presence" wherein they are empowered to contribute to and determine the outcomes of revitalization plans so that they are not displaced, their legacies (memories/stories) are intact, and they, too, can enjoy the benefits of the revitalization efforts/community improvements?

    If these additional goals/needs are applicable, can preservation values and tools holistically accommodate them? If not, what additional resources can? (for example, the EPA federal grants that L Vannessa Frazier mentioned).

    Finally (and more ominously), preservation groups/officials that are oftentimes involved with planning/revitalization projects (in this case, on a local level) may not object-in fact, some may even "exploit" the loopholes in preservation regulation (for example, in this case, Stevens Street is a National Historic District, so there is no need to engage stakeholders there because it is not subject to local regulatory review for development)-when developers and/or planners select a traditionally marginalized neighborhood for a revitalization project because, as Jim Sparks mentioned, the area "costs the least to acquire and has the least ability to fight the project's location." This way, preservation groups/officials can realize their goals and interests that are part of the project without having to encounter larger resistance. Considering this, who holds these preservation groups/officials accountable for this somewhat "willful silence" (so to speak)? And if there is no real accountability, why?

    Anyway, I don't ask these questions to ruffle feathers, but I do think they are worth asking to get to the root of some of the larger themes and trends brought up in this discussion. And I think Forum is a good place to ask them so that preservationists at all levels and stages can begin to talk through them, share perspectives, and problem solve together.

    ------------------------------
    Jamesha Gibson
    ------------------------------



  • 14.  RE: Historic African American neighborhoods

    Posted 09-13-2019 10:48
    9/13/19

    Jamesha Gibson,

    I don't think the issues of historical preservation and residential repair are or need to be mutually exclusive. If I look at my hometown of New York, for example, the repair and displacement of African Americans and Latinos living in Harlem had nothing (continues to have) to do with either history or renovation of Harlem, it had (has) everything to do with rich and wealthy white people who had opted out to live in the suburbs in the 60s through the 90s realizing that they no longer like living far away from the city. Their children and grandchildren want to live in the "mix" so to speak. To make this change required accommodations (pushing out working class black and brown people). The big fight now is Brooklyn (and that is not only black and brown people; it is also working class white people) there are groups fighting gentrification (which they see more of wealthy real estate people coming in and pushing people out)
    The current (really lost) fight in Tallahassee Florida is a careless (as in we could care less) project. Apparently there is some government funded program regarding flooding and to get this money the city commission and the Mayor determined to claim this black neighborhood would be the area that needed to develop a flood prevention system. They have moved out the people destroyed homes and business and then ripped up the centuries old oak trees.
    One of the things I believe we need to demand (if this is possible) of congress is how Eminent Domain is used. Perhaps it should be eliminated. It has become a Kafaesque law that is used as a weapon to attack citizens. (meaning there is no clear reasoning for its use)
    As for the people living in these neighborhoods, I believe several things are happening (a) there are the people who have inherited the property from ancestors and they embrace having that home and they want to pass it on to the next generation (b) there are people who have moved into the neighborhood either because they know people who live there or they enjoy living with other black (or whatever) people (c) there are people who own businesses and enjoy working here. These people may need financial assistance in repairing their  buildings; it doesn't mean they want the government to come in and give them a deal they can't refuse. They need banks that will give them the loans they need to fix their property. They need the city or state to stop redlining their neighborhoods so the value of their property is underground.

    Just my thoughts.

    ------------------------------
    Gylbert Coker
    Mitchell-Young-Anderson Museum, Inc.
    Thomasville GA
    ------------------------------



  • 15.  RE: Historic African American neighborhoods

    Ambassador
    Posted 09-17-2019 12:48
    Hey again, Gylbert. The Portland neighborhood of west Louisville is going through the redevelopment process you have discussed. I appears that the city is trying to interact with residents to preserve the historic fabric and deal with the effects of anticipated gentrification. Several articles have been written, and WFPL, the local NPR affiliate has produced several broadcasts relating to the topic. Searching west Louisville/Portland development/gentrification, will get you a great deal of information.

    ------------------------------
    Jim Sparks
    Sparks Architecture
    Glasgow, KY
    ------------------------------



  • 16.  RE: Historic African American neighborhoods

    Posted 09-17-2019 14:28
    That is awesome Jim, congratulations, the project should be an historic lesson to the nation. The struggle continues, you can do it.

    --

    L Vannessa Frazier
    Executive Director
    Howardville Community Betterment
    Project Manager - City of Howardville - EPA Brownfield Cleanup Grant Award
    Robert Woods Johnson Foundation Culture of Health Leader - CoHort 1
    105 Howard Ave
    Howardville, Mo. 63869
    573-233-0926 - cell
    573-688-2137 - city hall - message
    573-688-5445 - fax
    newsonlydia@gmail.com

    CONFIDENTIALITY NOTICE: This communication contains information intended for the use of the individuals to whom it is addressed and may contain information that is privileged, confidential or exempt from other disclosure under applicable law. If you are not the intended recipient, you are notified that any disclosure, printing, copying, distribution or use of the contents is prohibited. If you have received this in error, please notify the sender immediately by telephone or by returning it via email and then permanently delete the communication from your system. Thank you.

     






  • 17.  RE: Historic African American neighborhoods

    Posted 09-17-2019 23:30

    Wow. Thank you, Gylbert Coker, for posting and getting this important conversation started. As Jamesha Gibson mentioned, the National Trust's Research and Policy Lab is currently working in conjunction with the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund towards the release of a report on cultural heritage and displacement in historically African American neighborhoods in late January / early February 2020. The report will include a literature review focused on the history of neighborhood change as it impacts historically African American neighborhoods and prevailing literature on gentrification and displacement. It will also include material from a group of excellent young scholars who conducted case studies in some of the historically African American neighborhoods in our ten study cities. Some of the Research Fellows studied the erasure of African American communities, so I think this will be very relevant to your question. 

    As far as our team is am aware, renovations of contributing properties in historic districts are subject to historic building rehab standards, but historic district status is threatened by loss of integrity of the buildings rather than change in the demographic makeup of the neighborhood. The Lower East Side in New York, for example, has shifted its ethnic population numerous times, but remains designated historic because of the significance of what happened there. This, of course, touches on one debate at the heart of our study, which is how historic preservation can be practiced more equitably and address concerns associated with neighborhood change.

    Just as you've heard from our former colleague Melissa Jest, our team isn't aware of any previous studies looking specifically at how many or how frequently African American communities are destroyed or erased, but we hope that our study starts to elevate the subject more and further demonstrate its urgency. There was a study from the National Community Reinvestment Coalition earlier this year that looked at the displacement of African American and Latino residents (see https://ncrc.org/gentrification/), but it didn't engage the role preservation plays in such instances. More work is needed here, no doubt. 

    I'm sorry to not have more previous work to point to, but again, I'm grateful for the good discussion here. We're eager to release our report early next year and look forward to more direct focus on this topic in the near future. 

    Thanks,

    Mike Powe

    --



    ------------------------------
    Mike Powe
    Director of Research
    National Trust for Historic Preservation
    ------------------------------