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Restoration of Civil Rights Landmarks Included in Obama’s FY16 Budget

Marchers carrying a "We march with Selma" banner in Harlem following March 7, 1965's "Bloody Sunday" (March 15, 1965) (photograph by Stanley Wolfson, New York World Telegram & Sun, via Library of Congress)
Marchers carrying a “We march with Selma” banner in Harlem following March 7, 1965’s “Bloody Sunday” (March 15, 1965) (photograph by Stanley Wolfson, New York World Telegram & Sun, via Library of Congress)

A $50 million restoration of sites associated with the Civil Rights Movement is included in President Obama’s fiscal year 2016 budget, released Monday. The Associated Press reported today that this multi-million earmarking is part of the White House’s greater commemoration of the Voting Rights Act’s 50th anniversary.

Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail sign (photograph by PD, via Wikimedia)
Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail sign (photograph by PD, via Wikimedia)

The 1965 legislation against racial discrimination in voting (which did away with such disenfranchising measures as literacy tests) was majorly instigated by the shockingly brutal police attack on marchers traveling from Montgomery to Selma, where black voters had been met with violence when attempting to register to vote. The site of the attack, the Edmund Pettus Bridge, is now part of the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail. It, along with other National Park Service sites, including the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site, and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, are part of the proposed budget.

In a release, the National Parks Service broke down the funding:

The budget proposes increases of $50 million for the Civil Rights initiative, including $10 million for necessary resources to improve high priority facility projects at NPS sites associated with the Civil Rights movement; $6 million to fund projects to document, interpret, and preserve civil rights history in the national park system; and $1.5 million to address critical base operating needs at park sites that maintain and interpret aspects of the Civil Rights movement.

Also included in the Civil Rights initiative is $30 million for competitive historic preservation grants to preserve the stories and sites associated with the Civil Rights movement, and $2.5 million for grants-in-aid specifically to Historically Black Colleges and Universities to document, interpret and preserve the stories and sites associated with the progression of civil rights in America.

While the budget still has to get through the Republican-controlled Congress, the initiative will likely be promoted when Obama visits Selma, Alabama, next month for the 50th anniversary of the March 7, 1965 march. And, with the profile boost from last year’s film Selma, there’s renewed attention that may help unify the parties, at least on this part of the budget.

The Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, in 2006 (photograph by Carol M. Highsmith, via Library of Congress)
The Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, in 2006 (photograph by Carol M. Highsmith, via Library of Congress)

Stephanie K. Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, released a statement saying: “Restoring historic sites that tell the story of the civil rights movement, and enabling local, state, tribal governments and historically black colleges and universities to apply for preservation grants to document these stories, will help Americans and future generations experience the full breadth of our diverse history.”

In 2013, the National Trust listed five endangered sites from the Civil Rights movement like Malcolm X’s house in Boston (which is still listed under threat due to a “lack of funding”) and the Emmett Till sites in Money, Mississippi (which, as of last year, were still in limbo as preserved historic sites). The budget notes: “State, local, and tribal governments can also apply for historic preservation funds to help them document and preserve stories and sites associated with the struggle.” It’s possible that the earmarking could be a major leverage in preserving sites like these that are not part of the National Park system.

You can read the whole budget online — the White House released it on GitHub and Medium.

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