BY: ROBERT HAVELKA
Black history is fraught with the constant struggle for recognition. Whether it pertains to the daily misery under slavery, the increasing struggles of being a Freeman in a Reconstruction-era South, or the terrible choice between urban poverty in the north and Jim Crow slavery to the south the entirety of black history is a tug-of-war between suffering and salvation. Beyond the battles with institutional racism or white supremacy a quieter, more subtle war is afoot – the destruction of historic, black landmarks across the country.
Overall, historic landmarks are always in danger of expanding development or government projects, however, black neighborhoods, landmarks, or interests are often at the bottom of the totem pole of consideration. Recently, in Montgomery County, a debate has raged as to whether or not expanding a garage on a black cemetery constitutes the destruction of a cultural landmark. A stalemate has developed as the church feels its archeologists are being ignored while the privately hired archeologists are allowed to continue their separate survey. The dispute between the church and the county planning board has led some to believe that racial undertones cloud the decision-making body. While this may not be the case in this particular instance it is not far-fetched to believe that racism may play a part in the development process – simply refer to urban freeways.
American history has not been kind to all history – especially black history. In this case, it is not something as atrocious as the destruction of Rosewood and the subsequent massacre that followed. As the tide turned against outright, blatant acts of racism and injustice the preferred method of removing black cultural landmarks has centered around cherry-picking sites one at a time, isolating black communities and any landmarks away from centers of business and development, or simply rezoning areas of the city and pushing out current tenants through tax increases. Much like the cemetery in Montgomery County, too often the cultural significance of a site is ignored because it doesn’t retain enough cultural value to the planning boards or exists within a poorer area of town where development is cheaper.
Although every instance where a predominantly black lot or neighborhood is slated to be developed or rezoned cannot be treated as racist there needs to be an increased awareness to the disadvantage many black cultural landmarks face. Too often the red tape necessary to have such sites placed on historic registers stands in the way of safeguarding sites from future development. Greater awareness is needed to preserve black history as we move forward.