Communities and historically black colleges that played a key role in the civil rights movement would get millions of dollars under an administration plan to upgrade and preserve the movement’s most important sites.
Administration officials want to spend $50 million on the initiative as the nation marks the 50th anniversary of key milestones in the civil rights movement.
Sites in the South, the heart of the civil rights movement, are the most likely candidates.
“We need to be reminded of the struggles that have happened in this country so that nobody forgets,” said civil rights veteran Charles Hicks, 70, a native of Bogalusa, La.
The $50 million President Obama seeks in his fiscal 2016 budget includes $30 million in competitive grants to preserve stories and restore sites related to the civil rights movement and the African-American experience.
Obama’s proposal faces an uphill battle in Congress, where Republicans have vowed to reduce federal spending. The National Park Service expects to award 160 to 375 grants focusing on efforts to document, interpret and preserve stories and sites. The grants would require a match from groups and communities.
The initiative also would include:
— $10 million for “high priority” projects to improve facilities at National Park Service sites, including the Selma-to-Montgomery (Ala.) National Historic Trail.
— $2.5 million in grant money for historically black colleges and universities. Black schools such as Tougaloo College in Mississippi served as bases for students involved in the civil rights moment.
— $6 million for civil rights-related cultural resource and education projects. Some projects could include digitizing archives at places such as Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.
— $1.5 million in operating fund for parks focused on the Civil War and African American history.
Sites that would benefit from the money include the Carter G. Woodson Home Historical site in Washington, D.C., the Selma-to-Montgomery National Heritage Trail interpretive center in Alabama, and the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park in Maryland.
Activists hope the administration’s proposal spurs national conversations about race relations and civil rights.
“If you don’t understand the history, it’s hard to have the conversation,” said Clayborne Carson, director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University. “How could you have a conversation about, ‘Why would I get upset about you having a confederate flag on your license plate?’ Well, if you have historic amnesia, you don’t understand why that’s problematic.”
The administration has acknowledged the civil rights movement’s importance before, such as when Obama joined civil rights veterans in Selma, Ala., last month to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1965 voting rights marches there.
Hicks said it’s important for the public to learn about civil rights efforts that didn’t make national headlines, and about activists who worked in small communities, mostly in the Deep South.
“So many of them have not gotten the attention that they should get,” he said. “It’s not just Selma, but there are places throughout the country in America (where) people have struggled for freedom.”
SOURCE: USA Today – Deborah Barfield Berry