Records Related to African American History in the National Register of Historic Places

Today’s post is by John LeGloahec, Archivist in the Electronic Records Division at the National Archives in College Park, MD.

This post is part of an ongoing “road trip” featuring records from the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) and National Historic Landmarks Program Records, 2013 – 2017 (National Archives ID 20812721), a series within Record Group 79: Records of the National Park Service.

Members of the Jackson High School Black History Tour Group of Jackson, Mich., stand before a painting of George Washington in the East Room of the White House, Monday, Feb. 12, 2007, as they sing during the celebration of African American History Month. (National Archives Identifier 171487149).

The month of February is traditionally designated as Black History Month and there are many records found in the National Register of Historic Places about African Americans regarding properties listed on the National Register. There are approximately 3,200 properties concerning African American history, including the Maryland MPS African-American Historic Resources of Prince George’s County, Maryland (National Archives Identifier 106775764). “Prince George’s County, Maryland boasts a wealth of historic resources that anchor this rapidly growing jurisdiction adjacent to Washington, D.C. These resources, which range from the stabilized ruins of slave quarters at Northampton in Largo, to more modern properties such as the town of Greenbelt, provide the County with a sense of place, time, and historical development . . . the history of Prince George’s County cannot be interpreted without acknowledging the significant role African Americans played in that history . . . By 2000, Prince George’s County had become the wealthiest majority African American county in the United States with a median household income of $55,256.” Prince George’s County is also home to our very own National Archives in College Park, MD!

Within Prince George’s County, you can visit Oxon Hill Manor (National Archives Identifier 106778014), which “is located in a parklike area overlooking the Potomac River and Alexandria” and “is of interest for both, the present structure and the association of the estate land with Maryland’s early history. Essentially unaltered, the present house is expressive of a high level of 1920’s prosperity” and was “designed in 1928 for Sumner Welles from a neo-Georgian design by the Washington architect, Jules Henride Sibour (1872-1938). The house successfully captures the essence of a Georgian country estate in the residential scale of its interior spaces and the development of the site with garden vistas and long views beyond the lawns. However, the architectural embellishment is inconsistent when compared to authentic 18th century details.”

After leaving Oxon Hill Manor, you can stop off at St. Paul’s Methodist Episcopal Church (National Archives Identifier 106778238), “possibly the oldest documented African American congregation in the County, extend [sic] back to 1791.”

There are many properties listed representing the migration of African Americans to Prince George’s County, including churches, schools, and entire neighborhoods that were settled by African Americans in the county.

Newberry County, South Carolina. View of [African-American] church in thinly populated areas of Newberry County, South Carolina. (National Archives Identifier 522785).

There are more than 170 properties listed in Newberry County, South Carolina, including several Rosenwald Schools, such as the Hope Rosenwald School (National Archives Identifier 118998209), which is “located near the town of Pomaria, South Carolina, [and] is a fine example of the ‘Two-Teacher Community School Plan” popularized throughout the South as part of the Rosenwald Fund school building program of the early to mid-twentieth century. As with most of the smaller schools built during the “community school plan” phase of the Rosenwald program (1920-28), the Hope Rosenwald School maybe loosely termed Colonial Revival in style, though its distinguishing architectural features are quite basic and unadorned on both the interior and exterior. Constructed in 1925-26 on land sold to Newberry County by the Hope Family for only five dollars, the Hope Rosenwald School served for nearly thirty years as the principal source of African-American primary public education in this rural community, until it was closed in 1954 as part of public school consolidation efforts under the Byrnes School Equalization program. The school sits adjacent to the St. Paul AME Church on Hope Station Road and is otherwise surrounded by grassy fields and pine stands in a remote section of Newberry County.”

Coosa Valley, Alabama. Interior of FSA temporary home occupied by [African-American] tenant. (National Archives Identifier 522638).

You can also travel to the Coosa Valley and visit the Hiram Colored School (National Archives Identifier 93209233) or the Riegel Hospital (National Archives Identifier 93207388).

“The Hiram Colored School, built in 1930, is located on the north side of Hiram, Paulding County in a loosely developed residential area. The school is situated on a high point of a large lot featuring large mature trees and foundation plantings . . . The Hiram Colored School is significant in the area of Ethnic Heritage: African-American and education for its function as a African-American school constructed with funds from the Julius Rosenwald Fund. Julius Rosenwald (1862-1932), president of Sears, Roebuck and Company and philanthropist, provided funding for the construction of adequate school facilities for black children in the rural South from 1913 to 1932. At the turn of the century, northern philanthropists had joined forces with white southern education leaders to improve public education for African-Americans in the southern states.”

The “Riegel Hospital, constructed in 1934, is centrally located in the Trion mill community in northwest Georgia. It is a long, narrow, two-story, brick building with Colonial Revival details including symmetrical facade, with nine-bay central block and three-bay pavilions at each end; flat roof with parapet: balconied entry portico featuring entablature supported by pilasters and fluted, Doric columns: and brick quoins emphasizing pavilion corners.” The town in which the hospital is located, “the town of Trion [was] developed as a mill village surrounding the Trion Manufacturing Company cotton mill. The company, established in 1845, employed the majority of the residents in the area and provided services for its employees as well as the community at large, including providing a hospital for medical care. Riegel Hospital was constructed in 1934 by the Trion Company to enhance the welfare of the company’s employees and the greater community, including the African-American community in a segregated section of the building until the mid-1960s.”

Probationers of [African American] nurses training school, at Frederiksted, Saint Croix, Virgin Islands. (National Archives Identifier 533532).

Finally, when things return to normal – you can take a trip to the United States Virgin Islands or maybe you can get your COVID vaccine from one of these nurses pictured above. There are many properties found within the NRHP records that are found in the territories of the United States, including the Virgin Islands, and the city of Frederiksted. Within the Frederiksted Historic District (National Archives Identifier 131518892) there are still underdeveloped areas, in “1755 there were only two houses, in addition to Frederiksfort, begun in 1752. By 1780, however, the upper section of the town had prospered, with King and Queen Streets the location of most of the new buildings, followed by the development along the Strand. Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Moravian churches, with their attendant cemeteries were built in the northeast quadrant of the town during the beginning of the 19th century. However the area to the south was still largely unsettled, until after Emancipation in 1848, when this area was developed for residential use to accommodate the large increase in population . . . Fredericksted, one of the two historic towns of St. Croix, has served as an important social, economic and political center for the western district of the island for over 200 years. Easy access to the Caribbean roadstead early made the town a warehousing and transshipment point for the sugar and produce of the sugar plantations in the adjacent hinterland. Fredericksted fort, built by the Danes originally to protect the town from pirates and commerce raiders, served as the government and administrative center. The local market served as a mechanism for both social and economic intercourse for the poorer classes. Plantation owners vied with local merchants in constructing elaborate town houses where the planters could escape the isolation of the countryside. After emancipation Fredericksted became the focus for freed black slaves who sought a more urban life.”

So go ahead and head out on the road to make some memories, like the Bonner family below, who had their picture taken by one president while posing with another – at the opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC.

President Barack Obama takes a photo of President George W. Bush, former First Lady Laura Bush and members of the Bonner Family following the opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza). (National Archives Identifier 167966687).

Click on any of the hyperlinked National Archives ID numbers above to open the fully digitized records in the National Archives Catalog. The files include additional documents, photographs, drawings, and maps.

For additional information see the webpage of the National Register of Historic Places dedicated to African American History Month.