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Brent Leggs on Preserving African American History
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Brent Leggs on Preserving African American History

Brent Leggs, director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund

In this episode, we set on an acoustic journey through African American culture and visit places like Nina Simone’s childhood home, the birthplace of hip hop in New York, and, among others, Villa Lewaro, the legacy of America’s first female millionaire, Madame C.J. Walker. Brent Leggs, an architectural historian at The National Trust and the director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, shares his knowledge of historic preservation and the crucial role it plays in contributing to social justice.

“We can use historic preservation as a tool for social justice and to tell a fuller American story,” says Brent Leggs, the director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund. It’s a project at the National Trust For Historic preservation and the largest campaign ever undertaken on behalf of African American History. Its mission: “To draw attention to the remarkable stories that evoke centuries of African American activism and achievement.”

These stories are reflected in The Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, where Martin Luther King was assassinated; In the modest 3-room childhood home of soul legend Nina Simone where she learned to play the piano; In the AG Gaston Motel in Birmingham, where King planned Project C, the civil rights protests of the 1960s that had a crucial impact on American politics; In the gym of heavyweight world champion Joe Frazier in Philadelphia who fought twice against Muhammed Ali; In 1520 Sedgewick Avenue, an apartment building in the Bronx known as the place where hip hop was born. In Villa Lewaro, the legacy of Madame CJ Walker, America’s first black female millionaire. 

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African American History: Nina Simone's Childhood Home in Tyron, North Carolina.
Brent Leggs managed to preserve Nina Simone’s childhood home in Tryon, North Carolina.
Brent Leggs preserved Nina Simone's childhood home.
The piano of Nina Simone with which she made her first foray in music. Image by Nancy Pierce

The list of these places is long, and every single one forms part of America’s diverse history. To save them, the Action Fund collaborates with grassroots organizations, historians, archeologists, artists, and foundations like the Ford Foundation. As Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation puts it: “Without a thorough reckoning with the complex and difficult history of our country, especially when it comes to race, we will not be able to overcome intolerance, injustice, and inequality. We have an opportunity with this Fund to broaden the American narrative to reflect our remarkably rich and diverse history.”

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