SPEECH: 2010 Save America's Treasures Awards

Remarks by Stephanie Meeks

It’s a great pleasure to welcome all of you to President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldier’s Home. I’m honored to be here today with some wonderful champions of historic preservation: Park Service Director Jon Jarvis; Dr. Stephanie Toothman, the Park Service’s Associate Director for Cultural Resources; and Hampton Tucker, Chief of the Park Service’s grant program.

And of course our other public partners: Rachel Goslins, whom you’ll hear from in a few minutes, and the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities; National Endowment for the Arts; National Endowment for the Humanities; and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

I’d also like to acknowledge the dedicated work of Erin Carlson Mast, the director of President Lincoln’s Cottage, and her staff. And the Save America’s Treasures team at the National Trust, Bobbie Greene McCarthy and Fiona Lawless, who have been such able and enthusiastic champions for this program for more than a decade.

And finally, I want to congratulate all the sites and collections that have been awarded 2010 SAT grants. We’re so pleased to be here today to celebrate all of you, and Save America’s Treasures.

For 11 years, this model public-private partnership has done great work to spark restoration and investment at more than 1,100 sites, structures and collections in every state and territory, including this historic cottage.

From 1862 to 1864, Abraham Lincoln commuted daily on horseback between the cottage and the White House during the warmest months of the year. He spent almost a quarter of his presidency here, and used the cottage for important cabinet meetings, Civil War strategy sessions and as a family retreat. The Emancipation Proclamation was drafted here, at a desk that was wonderfully reproduced by the same master woodworkers who restored the Lincoln Bedroom at the White House, where the original desk is housed.

The National Trust had been looking for ways to restore the Cottage for quite some time, but it didn’t seem possible until 2000, when President Clinton declared it a National Monument and announced a $750,000 SAT grant. It is the only cultural heritage site to receive that designation during his presidency. 

That relatively modest public investment launched a major campaign, spear-headed by Save America’s Treasures at the National Trust, which ultimately raised $12 million in contributions, exceeding SAT’s dollar-for-dollar private matching requirement many times over. The SAT grant also helped launch a multi-million-dollar National Trust partnership with HGTV and generated major contributions from individuals, foundations and corporations.

The story of President Lincoln’s Cottage is far from unique. During its first decade, SAT grants and their required non-federal match invested $294 million in the restoration of America’s heritage, and they leveraged more than $377 million in private and non-federal contributions. The projects have created more than 16,000 jobs and helped revitalize local communities in every state and U.S. territory.

Given that today is the start of Black History Month, I thought I’d try to bring these statistics to life by telling you about one SAT site in particular: the International Civil Rights Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina. It’s especially fitting that we talk about the museum today, because on this date in 1960, four African-American college students changed history by walking into the Woolworth’s Lunch Counter in Greensboro and taking seats in the all-white section.

Sit-ins started happening throughout the South almost immediately. And by the summer of 1960, 33 Southern cities had integrated restaurants. A year later, that number had risen to 126.

In 1993, a group of local leaders in Greensboro got together and formed a non-profit called Sit-In Movement Inc. to try to preserve the Woolworth’s, which dates to 1929, and turn it into a museum. They didn’t get too far at first, because the building was in a neglected part of town, and local leaders didn’t think the restoration plan was feasible.

Then in 2004, Save America’s Treasures stepped in. The program made a small grant of $150,000, but it was enough to change everything. The federal recognition finally got the attention of local and state leaders, who started to see that they had a treasure hidden in their midst.

Long story short, that one grant leveraged another $23 million in funding from public and private partners. And on this day one year ago, the Museum opened its doors.  The project generated more than 150 jobs and has served as an anchor for a revitalized downtown. Residents have moved back, and the museum is now a popular draw for tourists, as are the new shops and restaurants that have sprung up in the surrounding area.

The project literally put Greensboro back on the map. According to the local Chamber of Commerce, nearly 90 percent of Greenboro’s national media coverage is focused on the International Civil Rights Museum. 

And given all the studies showing that our young people don’t have a strong enough sense of history, I think it’s especially worth noting that the museum is a popular field trip destination for local schools.

Our children decide what to value by watching what we value. That’s why a program like Save America’s Treasures is so important. It demonstrates our belief that some places are worth holding on to, and taking forward.

These places are fundamental to our identity as a people. They help us understand who we are … and who we want to be. As President Obama reflected in his State of the Union speech last week, the legacies of Thomas Edison and the Wright brothers remind us of the great innovators and leaders who helped build this country—and inspire us to “Think Big” as we move forward into the next 20, 50 and 100 years.

Thanks to SAT, and the federal government’s commitment to it, we have the Wright Brother’s plane and Thomas Edison’s lab, as well as the bus Rosa Parks rode, the Apollo astronauts’ suits, the remnants of the World Trade Center, the homes of our greatest artists and writers, and 1,100 other reminders of our shared American story.

All of them teach our children about the stories of courage, creativity and innovation that are their birthright as Americans. In the end, that’s what Save America’s Treasures is all about. 

So on behalf of the National Trust, I’d like to congratulate all the recipients and recognize the National Park Service, and the arts and cultural agencies that are our other public partners, for helping to ensure a brighter future for our past.

And now I’d like to introduce the director of one of these agencies, Rachel Goslins from the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. The President’s Committee coordinates several federal agencies charged with the difficult task of selecting projects for funding. Rachel brings a wealth of experience in management and the arts to this position, and Save America’s Treasures is fortunate to have her expertise. Please join me in welcoming her.

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The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded nonprofit organization, works to save America’s historic places.
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