This week, several HBCUs across the nation reportedly received more than $650,000 in grants to help preserve their college campuses as part of a new initiative from the National Trust of Historic Preservation, according to MarketWatch.
Funding for these HBCUs arrives as university leaders and colleges continue their fight for additional funding nearly a year into the pandemic, which has threatened the stability of many already underfunded schools.
According to Brent Leggs, executive director of the National Trust’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund — who’s also providing the funds — HBCUs have been historically left behind due to structural racism and a lack of equitable public funding.
However, they still remain as valuable assets and cultural landmarks in Black American history.
“They stand as a living testament to African American history and the ongoing achievements of highly influential Americans, but they continue to be overlooked and underfunded,” Leggs said in a statement. “The starting point is to equip HBCUs with the resources, knowledge and information they need to invest in their historic assets.”
What is officially known as the HBCU Cultural Heritage Stewardship Initiative aims to preserve the nature of HBCUs as educational institutions as well as physical spaces that hold historic and cultural significance in their respective communities.
According to a press release, the eight chosen universities receiving these grants are: Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina; Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi; Lane College in Jackson, Tennessee; Morgan State University in Baltimore; Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas; Spelman College in Atlanta; Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama; and Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama.
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These selected schools will use their new funding to develop preservation plans for either a campus-wide project or individual buildings, many of which have been designed and built by Black architects.
Leggs also shared that one student from each of the schools will be nominated to help lead the preservation plans in an effort to “cultivate the next generation of Black professionals in historic preservation.”
The $650,000 grants coincide with a larger initiative started by the National Trust back in 2017 which began as a $25 million campaign to preserve Black culture and celebrate our historic achievements.
“In November 2017, the National Trust for Historic Preservation launched its African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, a $25 million campaign to support 150 historic places that have been overlooked in American history and and represent centuries of African American activism, achievement, and resilience,” its website states. “Through this preservation effort—the largest ever undertaken in support of African American historic sites—we partner with and empower Black and diverse communities to expand the American story.”
According to actress and HBCU alum Phylicia Rashad, who’s also co-chair of the initiative, the program is a “brilliant step forward” in helping to dismantle systemic inequity HBCUs are faced with.
“I was in a space that was much more than brick and mortar,” she said in a statement. “I was in a space that was the embodiment of history, of legacy, of excellence. You can feel the presence of that which has come before you. And that becomes part of you even after you leave.”
With more support behind these HBCUs, Black communities nationwide will have an opportunity to save their culturally-significant educational institutions for the next generation of leaders.
For more information on the HBCU Cultural Heritage Stewardship Initiative and African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, click here.