Capitol Hill Briefing on “Juneteenth” Recognizing the Importance of Historic Preservation in African-American Communities

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On June 19th, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) sponsored a Capitol Hill lunch briefing hosted by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation on the importance of African American Historic Preservation. Fittingly, the briefing occurred on Juneteenth, the celebration of the end of slavery in the United States. 

With Thomas J. Cassidy, Jr., Vice President of the National Trust’s Government Relations and Policy Department, moderating, CBC members offered opening remarks about African American history and the important role of historic preservation in their districts. Representative G.K. Butterfield (D-NC-01), Vice Chair of the CBC, welcomed CBC staff by addressing historic significance of the announcement of emancipation of the enslaved at the close of the Civil War.  His history lesson served as a reminder that in spite of President Lincoln’s first signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, many states in the Confederacy did not comply until years later when federal troops forced the release of enslaved people of African descent.    Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX-18) in whose home state the holiday is sacrosanct spoke about how the emancipation’s significance to all Americans.  Representative Donald Payne, Jr. (D-NJ-10) decried the complicated racial politics that contributed to the loss of much of the historic fabric of legacy cities like his own, Newark, NJ, in the name of urban renewal.  Representative John Lewis (D-GA-05) closed out the CBC members’ remarks with his emphatic pronouncement, “I love historic preservation!”

National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis then began the discussion by talking about the role of the federal government in promoting historic preservation in diverse communities. He focused on the Historic Preservation Fund which has been utilized to restore historically black colleges and universities and the current Congressional $500K appropriation for sites association with underrepresented communities as well as the Historic Tax Credit.  Next, National Trust Trustee Dr. Clement A. Price, spoke about commemorating African American history through historic preservation.  Price made a pitch for the U.S. Civil Rights Trail legislation.  Lastly National Trust Trustee Irvin Henderson, concluded the panel by describing how the federal Historic Tax Credit program has aided the revitalization of African American communities.  Staffers’ pens came out as he described the workings of the tax credit calling out the Creating American Prosperity through Preservation (CAPP) Act for their members to support.  Establishing a correlation between historic tax credit projects and census tracts with significant numbers of black residents has been key to getting on several members’ radar. 

This pivotal Capitol Hill briefing will be followed by additional efforts to improve the visibility of the National Trust with congressional diversity caucuses and to advance preservation efforts in America’s diverse communities.