Historic Preservation

  • "If the Rustin’s childhood home is placed on the National Register, it will be great to have a successful National Register nomination on my resume for future positions."

  • Chester County History Center Archives where I spent several days going through maps, newspaper clippings, and documents related to Rustin and the house.

Arden Jordan | Center for the Preservation of Civil Rights Sites

This summer I worked for the Center for the Preservation of Civil Rights Sites as an Intern working on a nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.

The nomination was for one of the childhood homes of Civil Rights leader Bayard Rustin, located in West Chester, PA. Rustin was an organizer and leader of many social movements in the twentieth century, including the Civil Rights and peace movements. He was the primary organizer of the March on Washington and advised Martin Luther King Jr. on nonviolent protest methods. Rustin was raised by his maternal grandparents, Janifer and Julia Rustin, and lived at 316 W Gay Street during his teenage years.

As this project was working on a nomination, I was primarily conducting research and using skills I gained in HSPV 600: Documentation and Research. This involved finding and reading books, articles, and other resources on Rustin’s life and childhood. Additionally, I researched and documented the building itself, creating a chain of title for the building and doing archival research. This led me to have a research breakthrough on the history of house which had not been fully documented before.

Part of my internship was interviewing stakeholders, including Rustin’s partner and family, as well as historians who had or were conducting research on Rustin or West Chester history. I learned the most from this internship from having these conversations; it was helpful to get experience drafting questions for stakeholders and leading productive conversations. Though the aim of the internship was to complete a National Register Nomination, these conversations made me rethink the original aim of the project. There are limits to a National Register Nomination, and it is not always the only tool available to preservationists.

I think it would have been helpful if the Center could have spoken with certain family members and stakeholders at the beginning of the project and had them give input to what is the best way to honor Rustin’s childhood in West Chester. Perhaps, the result (a nomination to the National Register of Historic Places) would have been the same. However, including community members in the process earlier on could have shaped a new form of memorialization and connection that we (the Center faculty and staff) as preservationists did not think of. Not only did I learn a great amount about completing a National Register nomination this summer, I was also faced with the Register’s insufficiencies, which was a great learning experience in itself.

Partway through the summer, I compiled my research to submit a Determination of Eligibility to the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office to see whether they thought the house was eligible for nomination. At the end of the internship, we received notification that it was eligible. My research will be compiled and finished over the next few months and submitted to the National Register. If the Rustin’s childhood home is placed on the National Register, it will be great to have a successful National Register nomination on my resume for future positions.