When is Historic Preservation Radical?

106 Group’s Steve Boyd-Smith recently moderated a session titled “When is Historic Preservation Radical?” at the American Association for State and Local History’s Annual Meeting, in partnership with Dr. Charles Wash and Athena F. Richardson.

This session provoked examples and discussion that challenged visions of what’s worth preserving, what’s been preserved, and who gets to tell the stories behind them. Poindexter Village and Alabama’s African-American Civil Rights sites each seek to honor and give voice to their ancestors through radical acts of preservation and presentation.

At Poindexter Village, the James Preston Poindexter Foundation (JPPF) partnered with the Ohio History Connection and elders of the local community to preserve buildings from a segregated low-income housing complex, a once-thriving African American neighborhood. This act of preservation, an act these elders fought for, puts forth a tangible and visible claim that Black places matter and Black stories matter. It also provides connections to the previous generations that had been largely erased from Columbus’s history, despite having been integral to the city’s development and to the generations yet to come.

The Alabama African-American Civil Rights Heritage Sites Consortium brings together 20 civil rights sites to make a similar point about Black voices. Preservation is not about only saving old buildings; it is about correcting the historical record by acknowledging the significance of people and places that have been undervalued, ignored, and overlooked by traditional historic preservation efforts. Preservation is also about reconnecting the stories of these places to the generations before the 1950s and 1960s who made the civil rights successes of those decades possible.

Interested in listening to the session?
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Featured Image: Cultural icons, such as artist Aminah Robinson, once called Poindexter Village Home.
Photo Credit: Columbus Museum of Art
Dr. Charles Wash

Dr. Wash holds a PhD from Howard University in Latin American/Caribbean History and is a professor of history at Central State University. For the past 9 years he has been the Executive Director of the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center in Wilberforce, Ohio. As such, he also provides leadership throughout the Ohio History Connection. He was also on the planning team for Ohio Historic Connection’s newest historic site: Poindexter Village.

Athena F. Richardson

Ms. Richardson represents the Alabama African-American Civil Rights Heritage Sites Consortium. Athena graduated from The University of Alabama with a M.A. in American Studies and a certificate in Museum Studies in 2018. Throughout her academic career, Athena received prestigious honors for her scholarly contributions, including the Elizabeth Meese Memorial Award in Research on Women for her paper, “There is a Balm: Performance, Voyeurism, and Public History Through Beyoncé’s Lemonade” from the Department of Gender and Race at the University of Alabama.

Steve Boyd-Smith

Over the past 30 years, Steve has created interpretive experiences for dozens of historic sites, visitor centers, and museums around the country. Among his accomplishments, Steve’s approach to the Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest Master Interpretive Plan effectively brought the story of the enslaved community into the site’s interpretation and furthered local partnerships with community members. Steve—a recurring presenter at AASLH, AAM, and other conferences—convened this conversation with curiosity, and learned along with the audience.