Endangered African American Historic Sites

Olivewood Cemetery - Houston, Texas


Incorporated in 1875, Olivewood Cemetery in Houston, Texas, is one of the oldest-known platted African American cemeteries in Houston, with more than 4,000 burials on its 7.5-acre site. The final resting place of many notable figures in Houston's early African American community and of formerly enslaved Africans, this Texas Historic Cemetery and UNESCO Site of Memory for the Slave Route Project also illustrates unique African American burial practices developed in pre-Emancipation Black communities, including upright pipes as grave features, the use of ocean shells as grave ornaments, and upside-down or inverted text.

Over time, changing demographics and increased development led to the cemetery's decline and abandonment. Decades of neglect, vandalism, uncontrolled invasive vegetation, and the occasional use of the cemetery as an illegal dumping ground took their toll. But the most persistent threat is the impact of extreme weather events due to climate change. Historic gravesites are being damaged and even lost entirely due to extreme precipitation events that cause erosion as uncontrolled run-off and greater volumes of water move at higher speeds through the bayou adjacent to the cemetery.

The nonprofit Descendants of Olivewood, Inc. formed in 2003 to restore and maintain the cemetery and now has legal guardianship. With the support of an African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund grant in 2021, the organization has undertaken a comprehensive study to clarify the extent of the threat from flooding and erosion, and identify specific protection and mitigation measures, but advocates will need partnerships and funding in order to implement these plans.


Threatt Filling Station - Luther, Oklahoma

The Threatt family homesteaded in the Luther area, a part of modern-day Oklahoma that was opened to United States settlement in 1889, after the Federal system of American Indian reservations and land allotments had been established. Like many African Americans at the time, the Threatts saw Oklahoma land as a great opportunity. They joined former slaves of local Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole owners, as well as former slaves from the southeast, in seeking greater security, economic opportunity, and racial solidarity in Oklahoma. The Threatt family raised crops on their farm, sold sandstone from their quarry, and, ultimately, opened and ran the filling station.

The filling station benefited from its proximity to Route 66. State Highway 7 formed the northern border of the Threatt farm, and as traffic on the road increased during the early decades of the 20th-century, Route 66's local alignment incorporated Highway 7.  Allen Threatt made a sensible business decision to take advantage of the farm's location and open the filling station.

From the mid 1910s through the 1950s, the Threatt Filling Station was a popular roadside stop for locals and travelers alike. The station was one of a very few places on Route 66 where people of color were welcome during an age when African American children setting out on trips asked their parents why they needed to carry so much food and water, as well as toilet paper and empty jars. Black adults growing up along Route 66 in Chicago just "knew which stretches they weren't allowed to use."

Morningstar Tabernacle No. 88 Order of Moses Cemetery and Hall - John Cabin, Maryland


In 1880, the formerly enslaved couple Robert and Sarah Gibson bought property on what is now Seven Locks Road in Cabin John, Maryland. By 1895 nine other black families had joined them in buying land here. Together these families built a self-reliant settlement, called Gibson Grove, later just No. 10.


In 1882, the community organized the first black school in the district. In 1885, it established Morningstar Tabernacle No. 88 of the Order of Moses. This benevolent society helped members in times of need and in death. Its Moses Hall and Cemetery were adjacent to each other. By the 1880s the community was on the church circuit; in 1898 Sarah Gibson gave land to formally establish the Gibson Grove AME Zion Church. The school for the local black children never had a dedicated building; it was alternatively housed in the church and the Moses Hall lodge.


The Moses Hall foundation in Cabin John is the last known surviving remnant of an Order of Moses hall in Montgomery County.

Sarah E. Ray House - Detroit, Michigan

In 1945, over a decade before Rosa Parks famously defied Jim Crow segregation laws, another Black woman in Detroit, Michigan won an important case in the United States Supreme Court. Because of her race, Sarah Elizabeth Ray had been denied passage aboard the steamship SS Columbia on an excursion to Bob-Lo Island. According to the assistant general manager of the Bob-Lo Excursion Company, which operated the steamship, it had a policy of excluding "'Zoot-suiters,' the rowdyish, the rough, and the boisterous, and… colored."

Ray then went to the NAACP, where she filed a criminal complaint against the Bob-lo Company. 

The local courts ruled in Ms. Ray's favor. The owners of the line appealed to the Michigan State Supreme Court, which subsequently also ruled in Ms. Ray's favor. The Bob-lo Company then appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the Court to hold the state's civil rights act unconstitutional because it infringed upon the power of Congress to regulate interstate and foreign commerce. In a historic ruling, The Court upheld the Michigan civil rights. Bob-Lo Excursion Co. v. People of the State of Michigan, 333 U.S. 28 affirmed the ruling of the lower courts, signaling the Supreme Court's willingness to protect the civil rights of Black Americans. This case would prove crucial in paving the way for Brown v. Board of Education.

The Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA) thanks the bipartisan group of lawmakers who secured inclusion of the African American Burial Grounds Preservation Act in the omnibus appropriations bill. This bill is expected to be signed into law by President Biden at the end of this week. Five years in the making, the effort in Congress was led by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), Rep. Alma Adams (D-NC), Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), and the late Rep. Donald McEachin (D-VA).

Nobody working to bring a $346 million Microsoft project to rural Virginia expected to find graves in the woods. But in a cluster of yucca plants and cedar that needed to be cleared, surveyors happened upon a cemetery. The largest of the stones bore the name Stephen Moseley, "died December 3, 1930," in a layer of cracking plaster. Another stone, in near perfect condition and engraved with a branch on the top, belonged to Stephen's toddler son, Fred, who died in 1906.

Behind a chain-link fence six miles from the cacophony of Orlando, a jumble of old masonry sits quiet and still, the foundations of what was the heart of a historically Black community nearly obscured by tall grasses swaying in a hot Central Florida wind.

The Hungerford property, as it is known, makes up 15% of the tiny town of Eatonville, a 1.6-square-mile patch of modest homes and businesses that is one of the oldest incorporated Black communities in the U.S. For the county school board offering the 100-acre tract for sale, the developers eager to build on it and a narrow majority of the town council, it is clear what they see behind the fence: profit.

LITTLE ROCK (KATV) — Little Rock neighborhood associations are banding together this week to begin restoration of the childhood home of Ernest Green, one of the Little Rock Nine and the first African American to graduate from Little Rock Central High School.

Patricia Blick, the Executive Director of the QQA, said that her organization had been seeking a house in which to conduct a window restoration workshop when she was put in touch with Scott Green, Ernest Green's nephew and the owner of the house, by Angel Burt, Executive Director of the Dunbar Historic Neighborhood Association.

Artistine Lang was president of a neighborhood association on the Peninsula. She put that on the back burner more than a decade ago, she said, and started focusing on caring for Pleasant Shade cemetery with her husband Rev. Darnell Lang.

They did fundraisers and organized volunteer cleanups of park, but it was a daunting task - to clean up and care for 20 acres of overgrown, marshy territory. Over the years, volunteers have come and gone, but the park is still in need of upkeep.

"We are trying, and hopefully things will change," Rev. Lang said. "But as it stands right now, it looks kind of bleak, I must admit."

Virginia has a program that funds maintenance for historic Black cemeteries, allotting $5 per grave. But as a private cemetery, Pleasant Shade doesn't qualify, even though it was the main cemetery for Black people across the Peninsula for decades.

Long-lost church in Williamsburg was once under a parking lot.

Archaeologists, blessed by community prayers and a reading from scripture, began to excavate graves this week at the long-lost site of the original First Baptist Church in Colonial Williamsburg, one of the oldest Black churches in the country.

Forty-one grave shafts have now been discovered at the site of the church, which was torn down in 1955 and covered by a parking lot because it didn't fit the town's Colonial motif.

On July 19, 2022, the National Trust for Historic Preservation awarded $3 million in grants to 33 sites and organizations through its African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.The grants will fuel the protection and preservation of historic sites representing African American history, across four categories: building capital, increasing organizational capacity, project planning and development, and programming and education. These often-overlooked places hold aspects of history that must be protected—and used to draw inspiration and wisdom for the benefit of all Americans.

The former Palmer Memorial Institute in Sedalia, North Carolina, has the potential to greatly enhance its role as a community anchor once again. Founded in 1902 by groundbreaking educator Dr. Charlotte Hawkins Brown, Palmer Memorial Institute transformed the lives of more than 1,000 African American students over nearly seven decades.

Brown Chapel AME Church in Selma, Alabama, played a pivotal role in the Selma to Montgomery marches that were instrumental to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Built in 1908 by formerly enslaved Black builder A.J. Farley, Brown Chapel provided sanctuary to civil rights activists and church members as they convened to plan protests against African American voter disenfranchisement.

Incorporated in 1875, Olivewood Cemetery in Houston, Texas, is one of the oldest-known platted African American cemeteries in Houston, with more than 4,000 burials on its 7.5-acre site.

Slave Dwellings: Ivy Cliff Slave Dwelling, Bedford County; and Parker Sydnor Cabin, Mecklenburg County; Grand Order of Odd Fellows Lodge/ African American School, Reedville, Northumberland County; Green Valley Pharmacy, Arlington and looking back on previous listings of historic schools: the Havelock School in Warsaw, and the Saint Paul's Chapel Rosenwald School in Brunswick County.

African American Places in Peril include: Red Oak Creek Covered Bridge, Thicket Ruins, Imperial Hotel, Georgia B. Williams Nursing Home, Good Shepherd Episcopal School and the West Broad Street School.