Since their emergence before the Civil War and their expansion in the years following the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, Historically Black Colleges and Universities have been fundamental institutions in the lives of many Black Americans. More than 100 of these institutions still operate in the United States, with notable alumni ranging from civil rights leaders W.E.B. Du Bois and Martin Luther King Jr. to novelist Toni Morrison and Vice President Kamala Harris. And despite their role in the story of Black America, many are struggling to maintain and preserve buildings and sites of historic significance on their campuses.
A new pilot grant program from the National Trust for Historic Preservation wants to fix that. The Cultural Heritage Stewardship Initiative seeks to increase the planning and preservation of historic buildings and campuses, and has awarded a total of $660,000 in grants to eight HBCUs to put those plans in place.
Launched in July 2020, as issues of race and inequity were being highlighted in protests around the country, the initiative drew the attention of dozens of colleges and universities. For many of these schools, where enrollment tends to be only a few thousand students, funding to preserve and maintain historic resources is limited.
“They receive less funding than other more prominent schools, and a lot of them do struggle with balancing the need to continue the educational mission while also preserving buildings,” says Tiffany Tolbert of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “They have buildings that are vacant, that are underutilized, and that suffer from deferred maintenance.”