At the corner of 13th and Euclid streets NW stands an old four-story mansion recently renovated by Robert and Vincent DeForrest, two brothers who decided that, together, they could build a foundation. The structure, which remained vacant for more than 7 years, now is filled with photographs dating back to the early 1800s, maps and blueprints and numerous documents that support the efforts of their organization -- The Afro-American Institute for Historic Preservation and Community Development. Established in 1970, the institute is a nonprofit organization involved in the identification and study of historic sites, urban and rural preservation planning and neighborhood development. Its focus is locating landmarks throughout the United States that reflect the history, culture and contributions of African-Americans. Over the past 18 years, the institute has been assisted in its mission by the U.S. Department of Interior, the National Park Service (NPS), the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Historic American Buildings Survey. Through contract agreements, the institute has conducted several national studies resulting in 61 sites in 22 states and the District of Columbia being designated as National Historic Landmarks. In 1972, NPS had three sites listed on its roster as exclusively black historical landmarks -- the homes of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, educator Booker T. Washington and scientist George Washington Carver. The DeForrests say that, through the institute, they are filling a void, one that until recently was largely overlooked by preservation agencies involved in locating and registering black historic landmarks. Knowing one's roots and preserving history always has been of importance to the brothers, they say. Through the experience of living as "wards of the city" of Cleveland, after being separated from their six other siblings, the two brothers developed an inseparable bond and mutual passion for knowing their past. "Coming from Cleveland, Ohio, we never had black history," says Vincent, who is an architect. "And being an orphan of sorts, we always had an intense desire to know our family and our history. This became a part of our search for identity ... for who we are. We needed to become aware of our roots." Robert, president of the institute, says, "The history we were taught in school always came from a Eurocentric perspective. But the presence of blacks in American history is very significant, from the Revolutionary War to Vietnam. And we have every right to protest, advocate and claim that which belongs to us." "Claiming" and documenting history is not limited to publishing a book, says Vincent, who adds: "The preservation of the physical is as important as the written history. Writers do research to get accurate material for their books. We do research to be able to maintain those structures which are the essence of culture. Black people need to be able to touch and see their history, which we literally walk past in our communities every day." The institute did not always have its current name, although its primary objective never drastically changed. It started in the late 1960s when Vincent DeForrest was working with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) under the direction of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He conceived the idea of coordinating an international exhibition focusing on Dr. King's life after reading a magazine article in which the Japanese expressed "admiration and empathy" for the slain civil rights leader. Although that concept did not fully materialize, a similar idea surfaced in 1972, when the U.S. Bicentennial Commission began setting up guidelines for the country's 200th anniversary celebration. Having designed other projects, Vincent DeForrest seized the opportunity to establish the Afro-American Bicentennial Corp. (ABC). From 1972-76, under the auspices of the U.S. Department of the Interior, ABC launced a nationwide study of historic black landmarks. The late Dr. Charles Wesley, formerly executive director of the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History, acted as the adviser and mentor. The study was urged by a group of black historians and scholars who met with officials from the NPC for the first time since it's establishment in 1872, according to institute records. What began as a project specifically designed to include historic sites associated with African-American heritage in the Bicentennial celebrations, evolved into an organization with a lifelong mission. "Every group of people has benchmarks or symbols for its existence. They also generate substance to be able to move forward, because history dictates the future," comments Vincent. But for many urban black communities in the United States, the future is not bright as it relates to property ownership and community development. Washington, for example, with a 70 percent black population, is experiencing rapid gentrification construction developments. Social factors and large disenfranchisement cause further hurdles in the area of architectural preservation. "Major developers are literally bulldozing through our communities. This could be very detrimental, which is why we are working so hard. In preservation, you don't have the luxury of time," says Robert DeForrest. In rural areas, a different problem exists, according to reports. Many of the older structures that have been identified as "historic" are deteriorating from natural causes. Part of the institute's work is to foster communal development. June 1989 marks the first year of a three-year cooperative agreement between the institute and the Department of the Interior, whereby they are commissioned to survey black national historic landmarks to determine which ones merit potential inclusion in the National Park System, and to look at existing NPS units to determine "the accuracy of treatment of the African-American role at these sites." The first year's efforts included a study of the Dr. Carter G. Woodson House, located in the District. Woodson, founder of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, resided at 1538 9th St. NW, known as the Shaw area, from 1915 until his death in 1950. Several units have been identified in the Shaw neighborhood, an area, according to the DeForrests, which "has more historically black sites than any other community of it's size in the country." "There is an ongoing need to identify black historical sites in this country and we, as an organization, believe in what we are doing. There is a lot of blood and sweat going into this," says Robert, who suffered a mild heart attack while working on the mansion last summer. "But when you put the time, energy and sacrifice into something like this, it becomes a part of your life ... and there is still a lot of work to do." Vincent comments: "I want black people to recognize that they are the embodiment of their history ... they have a stake in preserving it. If we are informed and lose our buildings, then the responsibility is ours and we must suffer the consequences."