Preservation NC Project Explores the Legacy of Black Builders in North Carolina
Preservation NC (PNC) has launched a new traveling exhibit and education program, We Built This: Profiles of Black Architects and Builders in North Carolina. “The project is actually a follow-up to an earlier exhibit that PNC released in 1998 that is still traveling around the state today,” says Julianne Patterson, outreach manager for Preservation NC. “The original exhibit covered material from the inception of the colony up until the Civil War. There was always a plan for an expanded project that would go beyond the Civil War, but the real impetus for this reboot is all the new research and information about specific individuals that has been discovered in the last 20 years.”
Through the exhibit, a docuseries and a published book, We Built This profiles more than two dozen individuals who constructed and designed many of North Carolina’s most treasured historic sites over more than three centuries. “The sooner people start to learn more about the skilled enslaved and free Black builders that may have been involved in constructing the buildings they live in, work in, learn in or walk by every day, the better,” says Patterson.
In conjunction with We Built This, PNC has created a new African American Building Preservation Fund. These funds will be used specifically for preserving threatened landmarks of African American heritage, such as schools, churches, lodges, businesses or homes of prominent Black leaders. “Historically African American neighborhoods, such as those built for middle-class Blacks between WWII and the passage of the Fair Housing Act, as well as Mid-century Modern homes and other landmarks of the state’s first generation of registered Black architects, are now particularly vulnerable to new development in North Carolina’s larger cities,” says Patterson. “PNC has recognized and preserved sites of Black history for decades, so this isn’t a new initiative as much as it’s establishing that this is a priority for us. This targeted funding will enable PNC to proactively seek out opportunities, as well as act quickly in case of emergency. The need is immediate, as both urban development and rural disinvestment threaten many buildings with African American associations.”
By Emma Castleberry – The Laurel of Asheville