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Urban Heritage Project and Center for the Preservation of Civil Rights Sites Dispatch Student Interns in Summer Projects
The Urban Heritage Project and the Center for the Preservation of Civil Rights Sites, two research initiatives led by Randall Mason, worked with 7 student interns this summer on projects in the Washington, D.C. area and Alabama, respectively. Each of these multidisciplinary documentation and research projects center Black history and experience.
The UHP continued work in partnership with the National Park Service in Washington, D.C. and Virginia. Haoyi Shang (MSHP’23), Faye Messner (MSHP’23), Jane Nasta (MSHP’23), Ruth Penberthy (MLA’24), and Chen Mao (MLA’23) worked alongside Mason, associate director Molly Lester (MSHP ’12), and research associates Meg Frisbie and Jake Torkelson (MSHP ’19).
In July, the team worked on the Georgetown section of the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal (Image 1). This Cultural Landscape Report, also informed by the documentation produced by UHP research assistants, will take a closer look at the New Deal–era contributions of Black laborers employed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).
The team also worked this summer on the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House (Image 2), a NPS-managed historic site that was home for several decades to the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) and Mary McLeod Bethune herself. Bethune was a world-renowned educator, civil rights activist, and presidential advisor (to Franklin D. Roosevelt) who founded the NCNW to mobilize Black women and organize for economic and political justice.
In June, the team did extensive fieldwork on Memorial Avenue, the grand corridor that was designed in the early 20th century to link the Lincoln Memorial with Arlington National Cemetery (Image 3). UHP research assistants used eco-positioning systems to collect GIS data related to historic features and existing conditions, and translate those findings into an extensive package of maps. These data and maps form the basis for the Cultural Landscape Report that the UHP will produce.
In August, UHP interns, in partnership with the Center for the Preservation of Civil Rights Sites, conducted fieldwork and archival research on Lewis Mountain in Shenandoah National Park.
From 1938 into the 1960s, local Black families operated, cooked, cleaned, and maintained the lodge, cabins, and grounds at Lewis Mountain. Amid local, state, and federal laws that barred Black people from recreating in public spaces, Lewis Mountain was an important site that offered refuge to Black travelers and campers.
The final report will include treatment recommendations gathered from conversations with descendants of the families who worked and visited Lewis Mountain. These efforts will inform the future interpretation and treatment of this important Civil Rights landscape. The project team consists of project manager Jake Torkelson (MSHP’19), CPCRS Director of Partnerships Monica Rhodes (MSHP’12), and historic preservation student Jane Nasta (MSHP’23).
Meanwhile, historic preservation students Calvin Nguyen (MSHP’23) and Elizabeth Donison (MSHP’23) held internships with Weitzman’s Center for the Preservation of Civil Rights Sites, splitting their time between Philadelphia and field work in Alabama.
Nguyen worked with a multidisciplinary team to create a new methodology for assessing and advancing the sustainability of highly significant Black heritage sites in partnership with the Alabama African American Civil Rights Heritage Sites Consortium. He spent a week in Montgomery, Alabama, working with the stewards of First Baptist Church and Trinity Lutheran Parsonage to understand the current conditions and needs of the heritage sites.
First Baptist Church (Image 5) was the site of the “Siege of First Baptist.” Following the arrival of Freedom Riders in Montgomery, the church was besieged by 3,000 whites. In the basement, Dr. Martin Luther King called Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy while bricks were thrown through the windows and tear gas drifted in.
Donison worked to nominate the Federation of Southern Cooperatives’ headquarters to the National Register of Historic Places. The Federation established the Rural Training and Research Center in 1971 in Sumter County, Alabama, with the help of civil rights leaders and rural grassroots cooperatives organizing to combat rural poverty, support Black farmers, and promote economic self-sufficiency.
Donison says the project encompassed her interests in social justice, “public preservation,” and farming communities. She appreciates the opportunity to work with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives and its founding members (many of whom were actively involved in the Civil Rights Movement), as well as the Alabama state historic preservation office on the nomination.
Learn more about these sites on the CPCRS website. Photo: Sarah Lerner for CPCRS