Atlanta awarded $25,000 to preserve LGBT history

The National Park Service's nearly $25,000 grant will create a Historic Context Statement for important sites of LGBTQ+ history in Atlanta. Photo by Harry Wyman | The Signal

The U.S Department of the Interior’s National Park Service has provided the City of Atlanta with a nearly $25,000 Federal Historic Preservation Grant last month to preserve LGBTQA+ history in the Metro Atlanta area.

The competitive grant, supported by the National Park Service’s Underrepresented Community Grants program, will fund a Historic Context Statement for areas critical to the LGBTQA+ community in Atlanta. A Historic Context Statement is a document that historic preservationists use to identify and evaluate potential landmarks. Then, the National Park Service can designate them as federally significant historic sites. 

Atlanta’s Historic Context Statement will focus on LGBTQA+ rights in the city. It will address the founding of gay and lesbian rights organizations, the development of LGBT-friendly nodes throughout the city, the LGBTQA+ Rights Movement since the 1970s, LGBTQA+ culture and the 1980′s AIDS epidemic, among other topics.

Photo by Harry Wyman | The Signal

The effort to create a Historic Context Statement combines Historic Atlanta, Inc., the Midtown Neighbors Association, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Mailchimp and the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation in addition to individual donors. 

“[The Historic Context Statement] is such an important first step,” Charles Lawrence, Historic Atlanta’s board chair, said. “Nothing like it [has] been done in the state of Georgia [or] in the Southeast. Atlanta [has] always been the refuge for the LGBTQ+ community in the Southeast.”

Historic Atlanta, a non-profit founded in 2018, leads the effort to complete the city’s LGBTQA+ Historic Context Statement. To create a Historic Context Statement, the group will first study local historically rich locations in the city. 

The research will take about one year to complete and determine which locations the National Park Service deems federally recognized historic sites. The group could also amend preservation efforts for existing historical sites to include LGBTQA+ history that historians previously neglected.

The National Park Service’s Underrepresented Community Grants share the group’s mission to diversify preserved historical sites.

The grants seek to include locations relevant to various underrepresented groups in the National Register of Historic Places. To do this, they require their recipients’ work to result in “the submission of a new nomination to the National Register of Historic Places or National Historic Landmark program,” or “an amendment to an existing National Register or National Historic Landmark nomination to include underrepresented communities.” 

There aren’t any registered in Georgia under the National Register of Historic Places that focus on LGBTQA+ history. Recognition in the National Register of Historic Places is essential for a historic site to survive. 

A location listed on the Register has access to extra federal financial benefits and encourages the community to acknowledge and respect its importance. Without this support and recognition, many historic buildings fall victim to neglect or demolition.

“An Atlanta LGBT Historic Context Statement would provide the State Historic Preservation Office with the framework to identify and evaluate historic resources for their association to LGBT rights and culture for inclusion on the Georgia and National Registers of Historic Places,” said Historic Atlanta’s LGBTQA+ Historic Preservation Advisory Committee Chair Charlie Paine. “Additionally, it would provide the City of Atlanta with similar guidance to meaningfully protect these sites through the City’s Historic Preservation Ordinance. [Being recognized] is a huge step forward for LGBTQ+ historic preservation in the South.”

Photo by Harry Wyman | The Signal

COVID-19 temporarily slowed down plans to finish the Historic Context Statement, so the Federal Historic Preservation Grant was a breath of fresh air for Historic Atlanta. The group had been working to secure the $40,000 needed for the project for two years. 

They were well on their way with a $10,000 donation from Mailchimp and multiple contributions from independent donors. However, they still needed about half of the funds. The grant provided by the National Park Service’s Historic Preservation Fund, which matched past donations, was the final piece of the puzzle. 

While the City passed on the grant to Historic Atlanta, who will hire a firm to complete the Historic Context Statement, the Atlanta Department of City Planning claimed they were not further involved with the research. 

Still, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms offered her support for the study in a press release

“Atlanta’s leading role in human and civil rights on both the national and international stage is due in large part to the contributions from our LGBTQ community over many years,” Mayor Bottoms said. “Thank you to Historic Atlanta, Inc. and the many partners who have assisted this collective effort to preserve LGBTQ sites of significance and enshrine the LGBTQ community’s story in Atlanta history.”