The Center for the Preservation of Civil Rights Sites (CPCRS) at Weitzman and the Robert R. Taylor School of Architecture and Construction Science at Tuskegee University have each received a $750,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to build capacity among Black-led institutions to reimagine, redesign, and redeploy historic preservation to address the needs of the historical places, organizations, and communities devoted to the legacy of civil rights.
The initiative, called Capacity Building for Sustainable Preservation of Civil Rights Heritage Places, entails training the next generation of preservation professionals to take on the cultural and technical work needed to redress the imbalances in what heritage places get preserved and conduct research into best practices in all areas of historic preservation work. From site documentation and management to policy making, the Penn-Tuskegee collaboration is devoted to explicitly lifting the profile and ensuring the sustainability of Black heritage places and organizations representing the country’s long struggles with civil rights.
The initiative builds on the partnership formally established between Penn and Tuskegee in 2020 with support from the J.M. Kaplan Fund. Together, Penn and Tuskegee have undertaken curricular development, research initiatives, joint field projects, digital humanities tools, and other educational projects that will continue. In the longer term, community-centered efforts connecting civil rights heritage with economic development, arts-and-culture sectors, and urban planning processes are envisioned.
“It’s extremely gratifying to have Mellon’s support for our work as we look to deepen our relationships with community members in both Philadelphia and Alabama over the next three years,” says Randy Mason, faculty director at CPCRS and professor in the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation. From 2013 to 2017, Mason directed PennPraxis, the Weitzman School’s sought-after consulting and community engagement arm and he continues to lead the Urban Heritage Projectat PennPraxis.
The Capacity Building for Sustainable Preservation of Civil Rights Heritage Places initiative is among the first to be supported through the Mellon Foundation’s new “Humanities in Place” program, that supports “a fuller, more complex telling of American histories and lived experiences by deepening the range of how and where our stories are told and by bringing a wider variety of voices into the public dialogue.”
“The field of historic preservation, long dominated by institutions marked by white privilege, has historically had a blind spot for many issues of significance for Black heritage, from listings and leadership to public policies and university study opportunities,” says Dr. Kwesi Daniels, interim department head of Architecture at Tuskegee. “It is urgent to build capacity among Black-led organizations to meet the goals of culturally resonant, community-serving, and financially sustainable, Black heritage and civil rights sites. Tuskegee University’s Department of Architecture is steeped in this heritage, has a long legacy of educational excellence, and I am grateful for their partnership.”
Founded in the fall of 2020, The Center for the Preservation of Civil Rights is an academic partner working with organizations engaged in varied aspects of remembering, studying and stewarding the legacy of civil rights histories in the United States. CPCRS undertakes research, teaching and fieldwork to explore issues and solutions and raise awareness of civil rights histories. CPCRS’s initial focus is on 19th and 20th-century Black experiences— recognizing, though, that important civil rights histories and legacies draw on many other experiences in the US.