Diversity Scholarship Program Inspires Georgia Preservationist

Posted on: March 23rd, 2010 by Guest Writer

Written by Joy Melton

Georgia Congressman John Lewis gave the keynote address at the closing plenary session of the 2009 National Trust preservation conference.  He greets former African American Programs intern Cordelia Payne and Joy Melton at a book signing after the session.

Georgia Congressman John Lewis gave the keynote address at the closing plenary session of the 2009 National Trust preservation conference. He greets former African American Programs intern Cordelia Payne and Joy Melton at a book signing after the session.

Eager to step into the world of preservation, last fall I joined the Diversity Scholarship Program (DSP) at the National Preservation Conference in Nashville, Tennessee on the road to preserving the nation’s built environment. There, I gained a greater awareness of preservation issues among minorities. The variety of educational pit stops that I made in Nashville inspired me. They included preserving Rosenwald Schools, community outreach, and advocacy movements.

During my DSP journey in Nashville, I attended an educational session entitled "Developing Historic Contexts for African American Schools." Jeanne Cyriaque, the African American Programs Coordinator in the Historic Preservation Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, presented her process on how to research these African American resources. Another educational filling station about outreach to African American and Latino communities offered practical outreach suggestions, such as conducting window restoration workshops with youth or working one on one to both “tell” and “show” others how to carry out preservation work. These educational sessions provided me with tools to share with members of the Georgia African American Historic Preservation Network (GAAHPN). These practical tools can help us to fine tune the organization’s outreach efforts.

On this preservation road trip, I made time for a tour. Bud Alley, my assigned mentor for the Diversity Scholarship Program, gave me a personal tour of Nashville's many historic buildings. One of the most impressive sites he took me to visit was the Hermitage Hotel, most notable as headquarters for the national suffrage movement in 1920 when Tennessee cast the deciding ballot to give women the right to vote. Bud is a graduate student in History Department at the Middle Tennessee State University and a former plant manager in the packaging industry. His work with members of a Tennessee community to preserve a historic schoolhouse inspired me to stay involved with helping communities preserve schools in Georgia.

From left to right:  Bernika Melton, a graduating Senior at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, is learning about historic preservation with her sister Joy and Bud Ally.  Bud was Joy’s assigned mentor for the Diversity Scholarship Program.

From left to right: Bernika Melton, a graduating Senior at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, is learning about historic preservation with her sister Joy and Bud Ally. Bud was Joy’s assigned mentor for the Diversity Scholarship Program.

As I neared the finish line at the closing plenary session, Georgia Congressman John Lewis’ address encouraged me that the journey is not over. His reflection on civil rights advocacy and its comparison to historic preservation advocacy motivated me to continue to "get in the way" so that America's historic resources can be preserved. The John Lewis story of growing up in the South was an influence for his present work and a reminder that we all have a story. Here, I realized that historic preservation is an endless road I travel, for as long as time continues, history continues.

Currently, I research and document equalization schools in Georgia. Equalization schools were constructed for African Americans during the 1950s and 1960s to create school facilities that were “separate but equal”. I want to preserve the history of these schools because they tell the story of an important social movement for African Americans in Georgia and for me. While on the journey to preserve I will continue to research African American history, write about my findings and record the stories of others.

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Joy Melton is a graduate student in the Heritage Preservation Program at Georgia State University and an intern in African American Programs at the Georgia State Historic Preservation Office.

Note: The Diversity Scholarship Program is made possible through a cooperative agreement between the U.S. Department of Interior, National Park Service and the National Trust.  Views and conclusions in this material are those of the author and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policy of the U.S. Government.

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