Najah Duvall-Gabriel, 2007 Colodny Scholar

There was an old house on a hill in the neighborhood in which I grew up that the kids in the neighborhood thought    was haunted and looked out of place among the newer homes.  Many neighborhood stories and mysteries involved this old house. They were whispered among my group of friends and passed along with delight and surprise.  One mystery involved the discovery of an old wooden platform deep in the woods that outlined our development.  It was speculated that the platform was a place where slaves were sold and bought to work on the land surrounding the old house, land on which our homes now sat.  Now the use of that platform remained a mystery, but the presence of that old house influenced our experience within that place and made us conscious of our connection to history and the people who lived within that landscape before us. 

We interpreted the meaning of old objects and structures found in our explorations of our surroundings in a way that related to us.  The existence of the platform related to the old house, we thought; and the selling of slaves on that wooden platform related to the history of my family and me.   It was in part this tangible experience with historic buildings, structures, and objects that influenced my interest in history.  After studying Art History as an undergraduate, I then studied historic preservation, receiving a Master's Degree in Historic Preservation from the University of Maryland, College Park.   Historic preservation appealed to my interest in history and the application of knowledge to problem solving, which is an aspect to the work of preserving and rehabilitating historic properties. I now work in the historic preservation field and also volunteer for a preservation advocacy organization whose mission is to recognize, preserve and interpret African American historic sites in Prince George's County, Maryland.

Like many individuals, there are places that are important to me in terms of my family history, from the church my great-grandfather helped build to the historically black community in Germantown, Maryland, from which my family history began to emerge after the Civil War and Emancipation.  There are many people throughout this country that have their own stories about significant and historic places.  Their history is important to the story of America and without an awareness of these places, we forfeit the opportunity to see how intertwined our histories are.  Yet the reality is that I can't interpret history of which I am not aware.  I can't determine the significance of a place whose history I do not know.  We in the preservation field need to become aware of diverse perspectives on history in order to do the work of recognizing and preserving the country's heritage.  And as a result, when we preserve sites that reflect the Nation's triumphs and trials, we develop a more accurate sense of orientation for our communities and our country.

Najah Duvall-Gabriel
Assistant Historic Preservation Specialist
Advisory Council on Historic Preservation