In an endeavor to preserve Raleigh’s rich heritage, the city is meticulously examining approximately 20 historically significant Black places in a draft study titled “Raleigh’s Black Heritage and Historic Places.” Spearheaded by author Mary Ruffin Hanbury, the study, spanning the years 1945 to 1975, seeks to identify sites worthy of inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places, emphasizing entertainment venues, locales linked to the Civil Rights Movement, structures designed by African-American architects, and the Biltmore Hills neighborhood.
One such poignant narrative is that of Piney Grove AME Church, revealing a building’s evolution from school to a place of worship for an African-American congregation displaced due to urban renewal projects. This church is emblematic of the broader tension between development and preservation faced by Raleigh.
Krystal Glenn, a participant in a recent community meeting discussing the study, expressed a personal connection to the Biltmore Hills neighborhood, highlighting the distinct appeal of older homes and their unique architectural features. Acknowledging the contributions of individuals like John Winters Sr., the first Black man elected to the Raleigh City Council, she emphasized the importance of recognizing the enduring impact of these neighborhoods.
The study also encompasses the Lincoln Theatre, a former movie venue catering to the Black community during segregation, reflecting the city’s cultural history. However, the analysis deliberately excludes sites already on the National Register of Historic Places or those previously studied.
Raleigh’s push for preservation stems from the ongoing struggle to balance development and heritage. The city faces mounting development pressure, posing a challenge to the preservation of African-American historic sites that have already faced the wrecking ball due to redevelopment and urban renewal initiatives.
Mary Ruffin Hanbury hopes that preservation can serve as a tool to safeguard Raleigh’s cultural gems. However, she acknowledges the complex interplay of political will, public policy, and private sector involvement required for successful preservation.
As Raleigh residents reflect on the disappearing landscapes of their city, the study serves as a poignant reminder of the delicate balance required to protect and celebrate the historical contributions of Black communities. The public has until December 15 to provide feedback on the study, marking a crucial step toward shaping Raleigh’s commitment to preserving its diverse and meaningful heritage.