BALTIMORE — Just a handful of monuments that celebrate prominent African Americans exist in Baltimore, a city so well known for its historical sites that it bears the moniker the “Monumental City.”
Dale Green, a professor of architecture at Morgan State University, blames the absence on the lack of African Americans in the architecture and historic preservation fields.
“The majority of those monuments [in Baltimore] don’t represent the true history and culture of this city,” Green said, noting the city does not have a monument dedicated to abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who was born in Maryland.
To correct this, Green has recruited six students from the university to join the school’s inaugural “Preservation in Practice” program. In partnership with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the National Park Service, the school launched the program this summer. The students — all architecture majors — have traveled to historic sites in Baltimore and Wyoming, studied alongside architecture experts and even learned to lay bricks — all in an effort to increase the number of African Americans in historic preservation, architecture and urban planning.
The group spent a recent Tuesday morning crouched over new and old bricks at the Peale Center in downtown Baltimore. The 200-year-old property is billed as the oldest museum building in the country. After 20 years of dormancy, the building reopened as a cultural center in 2017.
“Historic preservation is important because we’re in an age where things are becoming less permanent,” said Akiel Allen, 25, a Morgan State junior and participant in the eight-week program. Allen and the other students recently returned from doing preservation work in Jackson Hole, Wyo., where Allen said he serendipitously unearthed a collection of old horseshoes.
“Someone’s life was there,” Allen said. “Everything that meant something to them was there.”
As the Peale Center sat vacant for nearly 20 years, plants and grass overtook the original stone and brickwork in the outdoor courtyard. The students have spent the past several days pulling weeds, repairing weathered mortar in between the courtyard’s aging bricks and re-laying bricks to restore the property to its original glory.
“I like connecting with people and making the actual property valuable and meaningful again,” said Monique Robinson, 22, a Morgan State junior.
Nancy Proctor, executive director of the Peale Center, thanked the students for their work, most of which was done in near-90 degree heat.
“You’ve shown us how this 200-year-old building is still relevant today,” Proctor said.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation enlisted its Hands-on Preservation Experience (HOPE) Crew to provide the students with firsthand experience in preserving historic resources such as sites and buildings.
“We started HOPE to engage a large, more diverse audience in architecture trades,” said Monica Rhodes, director of the crew.
Just 5 percent of architecture students are black, according to data from the National Architectural Accrediting Board. A meager 0.3 percent of licensed architects are black women.
“Historic preservation is extremely important,” Robinson said. “This experience has inspired me to go find out where our history is. A lot of our history is repressed and lost. It’s ignored.”
Morgan State is the first historically black college to implement a “Preservation in Practice” program. The collaborators plan to introduce it at other ones in the future.
Susan Glimcher, a spokeswoman for the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, said she hopes the diversification of architecture-related fields will lead to a more accurate portrayal of history.
“How do we truthfully tell the history of African Americans and all Americans?” Glimcher said. “It’s through historical resources.”