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How the Preservation of Historic, African American Sites Benefits the Whole Community

By Tanya Svoboda
October 2020

The National Trust for Historic Preservation announced, on July 16, 2020, that they would be issuing more than $1.6 million in grants through its African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund (AACHAF). This action will help tell America’s whole story while also bringing the benefits commonly associated with historical demarcation to predominantly black neighborhoods.

The African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund

The African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund is the largest preservation campaign undertaken on the behalf of African American history. To support the fund, the National Trust is working to raise $25 million.

In the first three years of its creation, the Action Fund awarded $4.3 million to sites across the country aimed at preserving the stories of black history. Additionally, grants were used through the Hands-On Preservation Experience (HOPE Crew) to empower young people.

The most recent round of funding is provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Grants were given in four categories: capacity building, project planning, capital, and programming interpretation. Nearly 2,000 proposals were submitted from sites requesting $190 million.

“That $190 million is just the teaser of the full need to restore and to interpret, program, and support the operations of these places,” Brent Leggs, Executive Director at the African-American Cultural Heritage Action Fund told Forbes. “That statistic highlights that African-American historic places have been undervalued and underfunded and I hope that our nation – public and private funders – will begin to understand the imbued economic, historical and cultural value of these assets, and begin to make new investment in them.”

What Does an Investment in Sites of African American Significance Mean for Those Communities?

Historic rehabilitation and preservation projects, like those funded by grants through the AACHAF, are good for cities. Towns that receive proper attention can expect an increase in jobs, a rise in property values, and an increase in tourism. By focusing these efforts on sites of African American importance, the Action Fund offers these resulting benefits, which have historically been focused in neighborhoods of high socioeconomic average, to communities with a lower socioeconomic average.

  • An increase in jobs: When areas are rehabilitated or preserved, new jobs will arise. The PlaceEconomics study, Twenty-Four Reasons Historic Preservation is Good for Your Community, notes in Pittsburg an average of 500 jobs were added just from using the federal historic tax credit every year for the past 35 years. Additionally, preserved or rehabilitated towns draw business owners who in turn create more jobs. For instance, in Raleigh “9 of the top 20 Yelp rated restaurants are in historic districts.”
  • A rise in property values: When an area is designated as an historic district, property values tend to rise. In Indianapolis, between 2002 and 2016, single-family homes located in a historic district increased in value 7.3% each year while homes in non-historic districts increased by less than 3.5%. And while not all preservation projects result in the declaration of a historic district, it is common for the preservation project of a single structure to result in protections for adjacent properties and the eventual demarcation of a historic district.
  • A surge of heritage tourism: Heritage tourism can boost an area’s overall economy. In fact, the PlaceEconomics study tells us, “heritage visitors stay longer, visit more places, and spend more per day than do tourists with no interest in historic resources.” Heritage tourism brings business to a town’s hotels, restaurants, transportation, retail stores, and museums.

As more and more sites of African American significance are preserved through the Action Fund, homeowners in those areas can expect other positive results to follow in their community.


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