I received an e-mail today from the National Trust for Historic Preservation:
Preservation is about community.
Now is a time for us to come together as we have so many times before, but with a new sense of urgency and inclusion, and in ways that will last beyond the coronavirus crisis. As important visual and cultural clues, the places we preserve hold promise for the future we seek to reclaim, and each site stands as an historical indicator of our complex present. We need old buildings as much as old buildings need us. They prompt us to remember who we are.
The COVID-19 virus has devastated many across the country, but due to disinvestment and systemic policies, African Americans and communities of color have been disproportionately affected. Our nation is again reminded that this disparity mirrors and reflects historical and racial inequities. We are being reminded to face the truth about our past.
As a movement, preservation has also mirrored traditional social values. Yet, if we lean into hope and take time to self-reflect, we can be the change we seek. We can draw lessons from the past to create a prosperous future, while also reflecting on the promise of preservation as an equity-driven movement. In our individual moments of stillness, we should ask ourselves: Can we confront the economic challenges of COVID-19 and ignite a contemporary preservation movement as a force for positive social change? How can we weave a tapestry of places and stories to tell our full, shared history? Can we challenge ourselves to realize equity-driven outcomes that benefit all Americans? Because when we collaborate, we have the capacity to create a national identity that reflects the country’s true diversity.
In the spirit of envisioning a more prosperous and inclusive future, I invite you to join me for a special Virtual Preservation Month event with Ms. Phylicia Rashad, co-chair of the National Trust’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund on Friday, May 22, at 1:30 p.m. ET. (Register in advance for the webinar.) In our conversation, we will discuss the power of preservation, the work of the Action Fund, and the historic African American places that inspire all Americans to build a better world.
Our forebearers responded to earlier preservation threats and injustices with dogged leadership, tenacious thinking, and community organizing. From the foundational work of Ann Pamela Cunningham and the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, to the groundbreaking activism of Mary B. Talbert and the National Association of Colored Women, our ancestors ignited our movement by honoring the cultural memories of George Washington and Frederick Douglass. Just like these trailblazing women, we have the fortitude to walk in their footsteps and prove that by cooperative agreement we can measure up. As social critic and author James Baldwin said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
The African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund will continue to examine and eliminate inequities through new forms of partnership, interpretation, and funding. Our leadership is about pursuing an idea, something yet to be seen, and a culture of learning to increase our relevancy and impact. We promote preservation as economic and social justice. We partner with humility in service of African Americans whose overlooked stories and contributions provide strength and examples of overcoming impossible-seeming odds. We draw inspiration and resilience from African American historic places.
Historic sites that bring forward a diverse and inclusive national narrative are playing a crucial role in redefining our collective history and, meaningfully, expanding the preservation movement in equitable ways. These cultural assets help us all walk toward a new era of justice. May our nation face its past to create a more just American culture with preservationists on the front lines protecting and preserving our diverse historic places and communities.
Be well and thrive.
African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund
I immediately thought of Ebenezer sitting all forgotten and forlorn on Bacton Hill Road in Frazer, and it annoyed me. So I sent the guy who wrote this email a note:
You know what irritates me about this email? It is that I have been trying to contact people in preservation for years about the ruins of one of the oldest AME cemeteries in the country, in the history of the country, is in the township in which I live. Ebenezer on Bacton Hill Rd in East Whiteland Chester County PA.
Every time I contact anyone that has to do with African-American history or the AME church I get crickets. 1832 is the deed date. The land was donated by a quaker named Malin. It used to sit amongst one of the oldest free black communities in Chester County. Development and everything else is making it all disappear and there are Civil War soldiers black Civil War soldiers buried in the cemetery. You can Google it. My blog will come up with all the coverage that I have done and things I have tried to do to save it over the years.
Richard Allen was not dead yet when this church was planned But not built. He died in 1831. From my research I think originally it was planned so there would be a burial ground for mother Bethel outside the city. And it’s either the AME Church or mother Bethel which holds the deed to this and like many other historic AME church is it rots.
So add this to your list of endangered places.
Much to my surprise, he wrote back.
On Wed, May 20, 2020 at 10:06 AM Brent Leggs <BLeggs@savingplaces.org> wrote:
Thank you for emailing. It’s regrettable that you are irritated by my message of hope. I also regret that you’ve had difficulty securing support for the preservation of this historic AME cemetery. I have copied my colleague Lawana Holland-Moore who you should speak with about this site.
Best wishes to you,
BRENT LEGGS | EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, AFRICAN AMERICAN CULTURAL HERITAGE ACTION FUND
NATIONAL TRUST FOR HISTORIC PRESERVATION
The Watergate Office Building
2600 Virginia Avenue NW Suite 1100 Washington, DC 20037
So this IS hopeful. I sent one last email back:
I get irritated because you know as well as I do, that in preservation, especially in places like PA where it doesn’t seem to matter much, hope can be quite selective. I fell in love with this cemetery when I discovered the Civil War Soldiers and freed slave(s) who built some houses that STILL stand on nearby 401 (Conestoga Rd). I also have spent years being told my skin was the wrong color to care about this place which is enough to make me cry. Every time we have gotten people to clear out the weeds, the place is happy. I can’t explain it. You feel welcomed there. I also had a structural engineer look at the ruin a few years ago. It could be cleaned out (by hand) and capped but the AME church has never seen fit to do much of anything. I have done some informal tracking and this is the case with a great deal of their sites. The walls are bowing on the ruin so time is of the essence. There is also development going up around it so I fear for it.
So dear readers, we are home with more time than we want still on our hands. Can YOU send these folks an email asking them to save the ruins and cemetery of Ebenezer on Bacton Hill Road in Frazer, Chester County, PA? After all #ThisPlaceMatters
LHolland-Moore@savingplaces.org (Lawana Holland-Moore)
BLeggs@savingplaces.org (Brent Leggs)
Thanks and have a great day!