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.

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.

Thursday, May 16, 2024 • • General
RICHMOND, Va. (May 14, 2024) – Each May, Preservation Virginia releases a list of historic places across the Commonwealth facing imminent or sustained threats. The list, which has brought attention to more than 180 sites in Virginia, encourages individuals, organizations and local and state governments to advocate for their preservation and find solutions that will save these unique locations for future generations.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024 • • General
Time was running out to save the last vestige of a rollicking African American getaway on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. The pair of neighboring Jim Crow era resorts once buzzed along the waterfront of the Annapolis Neck peninsula. At their height during the 1950s and '60s, Carr's and Sparrow's beaches attracted crowds by the thousands who came to relax and enjoy some of the top Black entertainers of the day, from Little Richard to Aretha Franklin. But after the venues closed in the 1970s, their once-expansive acreage began to be swallowed by suburban development: a gated subdivision, a marina, a senior-living community and the expansion of a wastewater treatment plant.

Wednesday, February 7, 2024 • • General
Published January 12, 2024 By Joanna Wilson Green, Cemetery Preservation Archaeologist

We are nearly halfway through the 2023-24 African American Cemeteries & Graves Fund grant cycle, and it has been a busy few months! As of publication we have issued 13 maintenance grants and three new extraordinary maintenance grants, all of which add up to a total of $168,931 in grant funding disbursements. Our newest extraordinary maintenance block grant recipients include Union Street Cemeteries in the City of Hampton (brush removal and landscape restoration), Union Baptist Church-Shores in Fluvanna County (ground penetrating radar survey), and Oakland Baptist Church Cemetery in the City of Alexandria (headstone repair and landscape restoration). A list of successful applicants may be found at the end of this article. We enjoy working with our existing grant recipients and look forward to meeting new ones as the year goes by.

Sunday, January 28, 2024 • • General
January 28, 2024 - On a blustery January afternoon in Princeville, N.C., about 35 citizens met with their mayor, elected commissioners and the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers in their new flood-resistant town hall, built in 2020. Across Main Street, elderly residents were climbing two flights of stairs to enter their senior center, raised 14 feet above ground level in 2021. A quarter-mile away, the Tar River — Princeville's longtime nemesis — rolled on quietly, north to south. The Tar and its latent forces were the reason for this meeting. Princeville, the oldest Black-chartered town in the United States, has suffered through at least nine hurricanes and floods since it was established at the end of the Civil War. They're only getting worse. In 1999, Hurricane Floyd breached the town's levee and left 10 feet of standing water for two weeks, destroying nearly 1,000 buildings. Floyd was followed in 2016 by Matthew, which again breached the levee and demolished half the town.
Sunday, January 28, 2024 • • General
January 24, 2024 - After 24 years on the DC Preservation League's "Most Endangered Places" list, the Mary Church Terrell House has officially been saved through an extensive restoration. After decades of vacancy between 1987 and 2023, the house is once again ready for visitors. Originally constructed in 1894, the house was built as part of a duplex--hence its unusual, half-severed appearance. The twin half of the house was demolished following a devastating fire in the 1960s, rendering the Terrell house memorably asymmetrical. The building's historical significance can be traced to one of its early residents, Mary Church Terrell, who is known for her work as a civil rights activist and educator in Washington, DC.

Monday, January 8, 2024 • • General
December 20, 2023 - The African American Heritage Preservation Foundation, Inc. has recently launched their African American Endangered Sites Matching Grants Pilot Program to support eligible 501(3) organizations to complete its restoration and maintenance projects for historic sites. The Parren J. Mitchell House represents the legacy of a pioneering civil rights leader and a significant chapter in American history. Congressman Mitchell served in the US House of Representatives for 16 years. The structure was built in 1855 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in June 2023.

Thursday, November 23, 2023 • • General
The Gullah Geechee fight to preserve the tiny structures, a cradle of the Black church, before they're erased by sprawl, climate change and fading memories.

Sunday, January 1, 2023 • • General
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).

Friday, December 16, 2022 • • General
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.

Saturday, November 19, 2022 • • General
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.