All posts tagged: Historic Preservation

Great communities don’t remain that way by chance

Early in my preservation career, I was privileged to serve five years as the executive director of Virginia’s Historic Staunton Foundation, an award-winning preservation organization recognized over more than four decades for its work to protect and revitalize this historic Shenandoah Valley community. Our children were born during the 15 years we lived in Staunton, it shaped each of us in significant ways, and we still have deep friendships that bring us “home” several times each year. Just as we like to return to this gem of a community, visionary leadership has made Staunton a year-round destination for tens-of-thousands of visitors annually and has generated national recognition for the city, including more than forty awards and accolades for its historic downtown from national organizations and media in the past ten years. Some of the top ones include : The Great American Main Street Award A National Trust for Historic Preservation Award Best Small Towns in America Award (Smithsonian magazine) The 15 Most Beautiful Main Streets Across America (Architectural Digest) That level of success does not …

Be a good boy…and follow your mother’s advice

Pop quiz: Who said the following? She’s a ‘nasty woman.” A “crazed, crying lowlife.” A “dog” who has the “face of a pig.” “Low I.Q.” She is “ugly both inside and out!” A “monster!” Okay, enough already. I don’t even have to tell you who said all those things. You’ve no doubt guessed correctly. Sexism in America, like our country’s racism, never went away. But it also never had such a vocal champion in the Oval Office. For centuries, women have taken abuse from men. For much of that time they had few rights and legal remedies to help battle oppression. Sexism and abuse continues, as we see all too well in the actions of the current president, but today women have more rights, more ways to combat mistreatment, and a power that is already being seen across the country. Winning the right to vote in 1920 gave women the opportunity to play a significant role in addressing sexism, and they are taking advantage of that power to push against one of today’s chief threats …

Recovered songs, recovered stories

Folk songs often bring us to the intersection of place, history, and memory. In certain cases, digging into those songs gives us a chance to recover the true stories, long-hidden, from our past, bringing a reckoning with the history that did happen and a reimagining for our collective future. Recently, The Bitter Southerner posted a thoughtful article which examines how the popular folk tune Swannanoa Tunnel was taken from the wrongfully convicted black community in Western North Carolina. Forced to build the railroad tunnel as convict labor during the Jim Crow era, those convicts originally wrote the tune in the “hammer song” tradition of John Henry. Somebody Died, Babe: A Musical Cover-up of Racism, Violence, and Greed shows how the song was reshaped and romanticized into an English-based folk tune in the 1920s – 1960s to appeal to white audiences. As the site notes, “Beneath the popular folk song…and beneath the railroad tracks that run through Western North Carolina, is a story of blood, greed, and obfuscation. As our nation reckons with systematic racial violence, …

Let’s stop celebrating a past that never existed. Instead, let’s understand and honor the one that did.

I first stood at Jamestown as a history-enthralled 11-year-old. The picture of the 17th century ruin of the church tower, abutted to the 1907 Memorial Church, is seared in my mind. I also remember the water lapping at the nearby shore, serving as a reminder that the people at Jamestown had the most tenuous of toeholds on this continent in those early years. While I didn’t know it at the time, the narratives of life in early 17th century Virginia — told by the guides, the plaques that lined the walls of the 1907 church, and the books I devoured — were incomplete and sometimes egregiously false. White Christian Europeans were the focus. If they were mentioned at all, Native Americans, along with the enslaved African Americans who began arriving against their will at Jamestown in 1619, were small, dependent actors; impediments, if you will, to the greater story of the colonists and settlers and the shaping of what it meant to be an “American.” Those Europeans were not home. They were the outsiders. Yet …

Happy Birthday, Jimmy Carter!

President Jimmy Carter turned 96 years old today, and that’s worth a celebration! It also brings back some personal memories. The 1976 campaign, when former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter took on the incumbent Gerald Ford, was the first time I was eligible to vote for president. A few weeks before Election Day, I was in Philadelphia as a young college student studying history and historic preservation, attending the National Trust Annual Preservation Conference — the first of 41 I attended over my career. Philadelphia in 1976 moved me. I loved exploring a real city, a gritty city at the time, with my friends and classmates. It was so different than Murfreesboro or even Nashville. We ate food that had never before passed my Southern lips and heard strange accents that sounded foreign to my ears. I was able to see and touch Independence Hall and Carpenters Hall, iconic places that I had explored only in books as my interest in the past expanded and deepened. Being in the room where the delegates debated concepts such …