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Cultural Diversity: A Movement of Statewide Efforts in the South: Documenting and Promoting the Region`s History 

12-09-2015 17:35

All advocacy is strengthened by the increasing and broadening of the constituency that supports a cause. This fact is clearly illustrated by the proliferation of interest groups supporting cultural diversity in historic preservation.

At present there is a prominent movement in the South to create statewide entities that document and promote the region`s diverse history. This regional movement has had, and will continue to have, a great impact on how the South views itself and its history in the 1990s.

In 1984 the first of these statewide entities was formed. The Black Heritage Council of the Alabama Historical Commission was created by the Alabama Historical Commission, which is Alabama`s State Historic Preservation Office, and African-American preservationists as an advisory council to the Alabama Historical Commission. The purpose of the Black Heritage Council is to help preserve the buildings, sites, and districts that are associated with the history of African-American Alabamians. The Black Heritage Council also seeks to encourage a preservation constituency within the African American community and to promote participation in the programs and activities of the Alabama Historical Commission.

The Black Heritage Council is made up of twelve members, one from each of Alabama`s seven congressional districts, two from the state`s historically black colleges, two at large, and one from the Alabama Historical Commission. The Black Heritage Council is an active board that meets at least twice a year. The Black Heritage Council has been involved in a variety of projects, the aim of which is to increase awareness and interest in preserving Alabama`s cultural resources related to African-American history. In 1988, 1989, and 1990 the Black Heritage Council produced a calendar called Keepers of the Faith, which included pictures and descriptions of Alabama`s historic African-American churches, as well as the date each church was listed in the National Register of Historic Places and the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage. The council advised Alabama`s Bureau of Tourism and Travel in the production of Alabama`s Black Heritage, a tour guide to African-American historic sites in Alabama.

In 1992 the Black Heritage Council printed "Alabama`s Historic Black Colleges," a two-sided poster composed of archival photographs and historical sketches of more than eleven of Alabama`s historically black colleges. This poster was created to increase awareness of significant structures that exist on the campuses of the state`s historically black colleges. The Black Heritage Council has also produced Preserving Black Historic Resources in Alabama, which is a thirty-five-minute slide show that examines the great range of African-American cultural resources in Alabama, discusses the importance of preserving these resources, and includes various ways in which to become involved in the preservation effort. Currently, the Black Heritage Council is involved in putting together "Building a Black Heritage Network," which is a meeting to be held in Birmingham on July 17, 1994, to bring together and develop a network of people who are interested and involved in the preservation of Alabama`s African American historic buildings and archaeological sites.

The Georgia Minority Heritage Coalition took its lead from Alabama. The Georgia state historic preservation office observed the success of the Alabama Black Heritage Council and asked the group to assist with an organizational meeting in 1989. In 1990 the Minority Historic Preservation Committee for the State of Georgia was officially established by the Georgia National Register Review Board. At that time the committee committed to completing these goals:

1)  Foster participation of minority groups and individuals in the statewide historic preservation movement.

2)  Increase public awareness of Georgia`s black history both statewide and in local communities, and promote the preservation of properties associated with this history.

3)  Increase interaction at the local and state levels among organizations, institutions, and individuals interested in and working with minority preservation and local governments and local preservation organizations.

4)  Assure the inclusion of black resources in the state`s coordinated planning at all levels. Especially work to assure that these resources are taken into account in all phases of local planning.

Georgia had already published an excellent book, Historic Black Resources of Georgia, in 1984. Additionally, the office`s five-year comprehensive plan, published in 1989, listed three "distinctive aspects" of Georgia history that related to African-American heritage:

1)  A relatively large black population and a correspondingly strong African-American cultural presence;

2)  Conflict and accommodation in race relations between blacks and whites, marked in particular by slavery, segregation, and the civil-rights movement; and

3)  The civil-rights movement, for which Georgia served.

The staff of the Georgia state historic preservation office realized the need to go beyond this internal commitment and begin to build and educate a constituency of people directly involved in preservation. Four years following its creation, the committee has much success to point to: a series of four posters depicting black churches, houses, community landmarks, and schools listed in the National Register; a statewide tourism brochure including a map and descriptions of fifty-six National Register properties that represent the state`s African-American history (both of these publications were presented to the governor during Black History month); increased National Register nominations; and building rehabilitation projects. The committee is now structured with officers. A larger minority preservation network has been formed with members who represent multicounty regions of the state. Meetings are held on a quarterly basis at various places in the state.

The Kentucky Heritage Council, which is the state historic preservation office for the state of Kentucky, saw a need to improve its responsiveness to historic sites that are related to the heritage of Kentucky`s African-American community. In order to do this, the Heritage Council realized it needed to develop a more active plan for assessing African-American neighborhoods and identifying sites and buildings relating to Kentucky`s African-American heritage. In order to achieve this goal, the Kentucky Heritage Council helped to form an advisory body called the African-American Heritage Task Force, which would learn from the African-American community what its priorities are. The African-American Heritage Task Force met for the first time in June of 1992 and is in the process of officially establishing itself as the African-American Heritage Commission. The Commission`s mission statement and bylaws are being drafted.

Additionally, by working with Kentucky State University a preservation plan for African-American resources in Kentucky is being developed. The graduate assistant who staffs the project will base the plan on what other states are doing to preserve their African-American heritage and history, information on survey and national data already existing in the Kentucky Heritage Council`s files, and public opinion that has been gathered in regional meetings. With the help of the African-American Heritage Commission, recommendations, goals, and priorities will be determined.

Kentucky`s statewide historic preservation conference will take place September 23-25, 1993, and will include an African-American track. The Kentucky Heritage Council is producing a newsletter, The African-American Heritage Update, which is another source of information relating to African-American heritage and history in Kentucky.

In 1990, through the work of the Florida Division of Historical Resources, which is Florida`s State Historic Preservation Office, the Florida legislature passed legislation that established the Study Commission on African-American History in Florida, which would be operational for one year. The Study Commission was composed of nine members: three appointed by the governor, three appointed by the Senate President, and three appointed by the Speaker of the House Representatives. Two legislative liaisons were appointed by the House Speaker as well. The Study Commission held its first meeting in November of 1990 in order to organize and establish ways to carry out its responsibilities. The Study Commission also determined that it needed to hire a staff person to coordinate its activities.

With staff support, the Florida Study Commission on African-American History produced a report entitled "Report and Recommendations to the Governor, Legislature of Florida and Department of Education", which included its recommendations on how to increase and improve public awareness of the cultural and historic resources associated with Florida`s African-American history. The Study Commission also produced Florida`s Black Heritage Trail, which is a tour guidebook that outlines tours and information on sites and events that relate to the heritage and cultural history of African-Americans in Florida. The Study Commission looked to Alabama`s guidebook, Alabama`s Black Heritage, as a model for Florida`s Black Heritage Trail. The recommendation by the Study Commission to integrate African-American cultural heritage into Florida`s textbooks and curricula is a long-term goal and a continuing process.

As of June 1993 the Florida Division of Historic Resources is actively pursuing setting up a Study Commission on Hispanic History in Florida, which follows on the heels of Florida`s very successful Study Commission on African-American History in Florida. The Florida Division of Historical Resources will approach the Florida State Legislature in July of 1994 to create the Study Commission for a one year period and to hire a staff person to coordinate the activities of the Study Commission. The Study Commission will produce a report, similar to the African-American history report, which will include recommendations and evaluations on increasing public awareness of the historical and cultural resources associated with Florida`s Hispanic heritage. The Study Commission will also put together a Hispanic Heritage Trail guidebook that will be similar to the guidebook developed for the African-American Heritage Trail.

As another means of including the heritage and history of the various minority and ethnic groups that have contributed to the life, history, and culture of Florida the Florida Division of Cultural Resources will include members of Florida`s various minority and ethnic groups on the State National Register Review Board. Vacancies will be filled by representatives of the African-American, Hispanic, and Jewish cultures.

On May 14 of this year South Carolina`s Governor Carroll Campbell signed into law a resolution directing the South Carolina Department of Archives and History to establish the South Carolina African-American Heritage Council. The idea to advocate for this resolution came from a meeting set up by the staff of the South Carolina Department of Archives and History during the annual meeting of the southeastern state historic preservation officers, which was held in Charleston in the fall of 1992. One of the speakers at the annual meeting was a member of Georgia`s Minority Historic Preservation Committee, so he was asked to meet with South Carolina preservationists who had a similar interest. The Council will serve as an advisor to Archives and History, but it also has the authority to conduct its own projects. The council plans to:

1.  Promote public awareness of buildings, sites, and structures associated with South Carolina`s African-American heritage through publications, presentations, and workshops;

2.  Support African-American heritage education at the elementary, secondary, and college levels;

3.  Build a network of African-American individuals and groups interested in historic preservation;

4.  Support the recruitment and hiring of African-American professionals by historical organizations and agencies;

5.  Advise the Department of Archives and History on matters relating to the identification and preservation of buildings, structures, and sites associated with African-American history and the programs and services of the Department.

In February of this year a one-day conference for persons interested in a Mississippi African-American Historic Preservation Advisory Commission drew almost 100 people. This meeting, which was coordinated by the Margaret Walker Alexander National Research Center at Jackson State University and the Historic Preservation Division of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, was followed by a planning meeting in July.

The remaining states to which the National Trust`s southern regional office provides field services have no cultural-diversity task forces or committees at this time, but most are involved in cultural diversity in some way. For example, Louisiana is very actively involved in a state tourism project that, among other things, is working to add more African-American sites to the National Register of Historic Places and promote these sites. Gerri Hobby, who heads the Department of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism in the Division of Historic Preservation, which is Louisiana`s state historic preservation office, is chairing the Greater New Orleans Black Tourism Network, which is part of the state of Louisiana`s $10-million contract with a public-relations firm, which will highlight Louisiana`s African-American sites and put these sites in the limelight. The Tennessee Heritage Alliance (THA) has hosted a meeting of individuals who are interested in forming a state committee on cultural diversity. THA`s 1992 statewide meeting focussed on cultural diversity. Additionally, the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development has published The Roots of Tennessee: An African-American Guide.

From a regional perspective, these activities are crucial to the progress of preservation. The Spring 1993 issue of Archives and History`s newsletter features an article written by South Carolina Heritage Council Vice chairman Larry Hough. He quotes the Council`s chairwoman, Elizabeth Alston of Charleston, on the importance of the council. "The loss of many valuable African-American historic properties and the dearth of African-Americans serving in or on state historic preservation-related agencies or commissions are among reasons for the creation of the council.

"So much valuable African-American and South Carolina history has been lost, so much is on the verge of being lost because it is not being preserved and still more has not been identified. That`s tragic, and that is why we are doing what we are doing.

"We want to be sure our sites are preserved and recognized and appreciated as part of South Carolina history. We are working closely with the state Department of Archives and History to help them achieve their goals in that area."

This quote sums up the value of paying attention to cultural diversity not only in South Carolina but across the South. If all preservationists work to pay special attention now, we can look forward to the eventual incorporation of cultural diversity into everything we do.

Publication Date: September/October 1993


Author(s):Susan Wal & Susan Kidd

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