Assistant Clinical Professor of Historic Preservation Brent Leggs has been named the new Director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund is a national campaign committed to raising $25 million to preserve and celebrate the contributions of the African American community and make a lasting contribution to the country’s cultural landscape. It was created as the national dialogue over the fate of confederate statues and the ways a collective past is represented in our cultural and public spaces, to move the narrative beyond confederate heritage and ensure the preservation of national treasures integral to the full African American story.
“As the largest diversity-focused fundraising and preservation campaign in the history of the American historic preservation movement, the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund begins to reconstruct national identity by preserving sites of activism, achievement, and architecture to tell the full stories of African American contributions to our nation and sites of slavery, injustice, and difficult histories to foster truth, reconciliation, and healing. This is our inspiration and aspiration.
The African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund will target several initiatives to preserve and advance African American history, including:
- Protecting locally- and nationally-significant African American sites through community involvement and investment
- Increasing both capacity and grant-making efforts for communities nationwide
- Providing hands-on preservation experience through the HOPE Crew, which trains and inspires young people through the preservation trades and by completing important restoration work.
- Continuing to advocate for federal programs and funding that enable monument designations and that support underrepresented communities
- Leveraging research to inform city leaders and policy makers on creating resilient, equitable cities
A Harvard Loeb Fellow, Leggs has served as the project manager for several National Treasure campaigns, leading efforts to preserve Joe Frazier’s Gym in Philadelphia and Hinchliffe Stadium in Paterson, New Jersey. Under his leadership, National Treasure campaign successes also include the creation of the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument in Alabama, which President Barack Obama designated in January 2017, and the perpetual protection of Madam C. J. Walker’s Villa Lewaro in Irvington, New York, where the National Trust holds an exterior and partial interior easement since May 2017. In 2012, Leggs co-authored the National Trust’s booklet Preserving African American Historic Places, which is considered the “seminal publication on preserving African American historic sites” by the Smithsonian Institution. Leggs teaches courses in preservation economics and social and ethnic issues for UMD’s preservation program and oversees several key initiatives, including a project for the National Park Service-National Capital Region to highlight the contributions by African Americans, immigrants, and women in constructing the C & O canal.
“The African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund,” notes HISP Director Don Linebaugh, “represents a new, inclusive approach to preserving our history and Brent Leggs is the perfect choice to lead this new and critical initiative to identify and protect sites of African American cultural heritage. He has been a thought leader in broadening the reach of preservation to include the entire American story, including some spectacular sites of African American struggle and success. The project fits perfectly with UMD’s strategic commitment to expand preservation practice and to celebrate the diverse story of America.
Several celebrated national leaders from the African American community will work alongside Leggs to advise the initiative, including Lonnie Bunch, Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Henry Louis Gates, Director of the Hutchins Center for African American Studies at Harvard University and Evelyn Higginbotham, Chairwoman of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.
Learn more about the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund here.