Elizabeth Donison (MSHP '23) won the Anthony Nicholas Brady Garvan Award for an Outstanding Thesis.
Abstract: Scholarship at the intersections of urban renewal, historic preservation, and race is currently relatively limited; this is even more so the case when focusing on small cities with small minority populations. This project examines such history in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where the minority African American population has been integral to the city’s history and culture since the 17th century. Urban renewal shaped Black history in Portsmouth via residential displacement and the loss of familiar sites and businesses. This thesis documents the material and social effects of urban renewal on African Americans in Portsmouth from the 1950s-1970s through an analysis of redevelopment plans, census data, city directories, oral histories conducted by Valerie Cunningham from 1989 to 1991, and new interviews. By documenting and mapping the African American experience, the project expands our understanding of this transformative federal program that continues to shape the city’s civic identity and collective memory. Prioritizing the perspectives of those who lived in and around affected neighborhoods reveals a more nuanced story of erasure in Portsmouth’s built environment within the history of urban planning and historic preservation. This thesis recommends future public history projects and further engagement to diversify the narrative of the mid-20th century Black experience and build upon existing restorative justice initiatives.