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Preservation Education & Research


The preservation of African American heritage sites holds a tenuous place in the historic preservation field. On one hand, preservationists recognize that under-designation is rampant and work to engage communities of color. On the other hand, the field has high standards of architectural merit and integrity for local or national designation, which disadvantages many African American sites that suffer from years of deterioration and neglect—particularly in urban areas. This research uses a qualitative case study the Cleveland Restoration Society’s Landmarks of Cleveland’s African American Experience project to question how contemporary preservationists address African American heritage and the tensions and opportunities in preserving African American communities. Additionally, the article draws conclusions for future preservation efforts in African American (or other underrepresented) communities. The article adds to a growing body of scholarship about preservation in minority neighborhoods and finds a pressing need to question the applicability and usefulness of long-standing preservation tools when working in communities that lack high architectural value and material integrity but have a rich cultural heritage and historic significance.