Two Brothers Pushed the National Historic Landmark Program to Include Black HistoryBreaking News
tags: historic preservation, African American history, public history, Historic Landmarks
In 1970, there were only two National Historic Landmarks focused exclusively on Black history. By 1976, that number had risen beyond 70.
Behind this change was a large coalition of Black scholars, policymakers and activists, led by two brothers from Ohio who started the campaign in a D.C. basement.
Vincent deForest and Robert DeForrest pursued this initiative through the Afro-American Bicentennial Corp., which they had created to nudge the 1976 independence commemoration in a less-Eurocentric direction. (The brothers spelled their last names differently after Vincent deForest changed his to match his birth certificate, which he saw for the first time as an adult.)
The culture of the National Park Service in the 1970s was not always hospitable to their ideas. Park Service officials sometimes argued that the sites the ABC nominated as landmarks didn’t have enough “historical integrity.” The ABC, in turn, argued that the Park Service’s criteria put too much emphasis on architecture and were inherently weighted against Black communities, where grand old buildings were less likely to be intact.
Ultimately, the ABC succeeded thanks to a combination of political savvy, powerful backing and favorable timing.
Now, almost five decades later, the ABC’s influence is everywhere, both in physical sites and in the field of historic preservation — but the story of its unlikely success has been largely forgotten.
Vincent deForest, 86, lives in St. Louis with his wife of 55 years. Robert died in 2007.
The brothers were born in Cleveland, the two youngest of eight children. Their mother died just after Vincent was born, and he grew up in four different homes.
“There wasn’t a lot of stability,” he recalled. “And maybe that’s one of the reasons why history became so important to us.”
comments powered by Disqus
- Josh Hawley Earns F in Early American History
- Does Germany's Holocaust Education Give Cover to Nativism?
- "Car Brain" Has Long Normalized Carnage on the Roads
- Hawley's Use of Fake Patrick Henry Quote a Revealing Error
- Health Researchers Show Segregation 100 Years Ago Harmed Black Health, and Effects Continue Today
- Nelson Lichtenstein on a Half Century of Labor History
- Can America Handle a 250th Anniversary?
- New Research Shows British Industrialization Drew Ironworking Methods from Colonized and Enslaved Jamaicans
- The American Revolution Remains a Hotly Contested Symbolic Field
- Untangling Fact and Fiction in the Story of a Nazi-Era Brothel