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History Colorado invites community to partake in survey of state's Green Book sites

"It's not Black history — it's American history," said Terri Gentry, History Colorado's engagement manager for Black communities.
Denver Public Library Special Collections_History Colorado green Book
Posted at 2:02 PM, Oct 24, 2023
and last updated 2023-10-26 14:02:40-04

DENVER — History Colorado is spearheading a state-wide survey of Green Book sites with hopes of nominating several of the destinations to the State and National Registers of Historic Places.

The Green Book was essential for many Black Americans who lived in the era of segregation. It served as a travel guide and included hotels, restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations and other places where Black people could feel safe visiting. Those places were then called Green Book sites. The books were published through 1967 and are available online here.

In December, the National Park Service (NPS) announced more than $1 million in Underrepresented Community Grants for projects across the country, including in Colorado. Of that total, History Colorado's State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) was awarded $74,998 for a statewide Black American travel resources intensive survey, or a survey of Green Book sites in the state.

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SHPO is now leading the charge to host community meetings and collect stories of travel from Black Americans to refine a list of 40 Green Book sites. It will nominate at least three of those sites to the National Register of Historic Places.

As of 2020, 8% of locations on the National Register represented communities of color or women. In Colorado, that dropped to only 5% of properties, according to History Colorado.

The first of SHPO's community meetings is set for Oct. 24 from 4:30-6 p.m. at the Fort Warren Library in Denver. A second meeting is scheduled for Nov. 1 from 5-6:30 p.m. at the Penrose Library in Colorado Springs. A final meeting will be planned for sometime in early November in Pueblo. The meetings will be a safe space for people to share their experiences.

History Colorado_Patrick Eidman and Terri Gentry
Patrick Eidman (left), chief preservation officer and deputy state historic preservation officer, and Terri Gentry (right), engagement manager for Black communities — both with History Colorado — talk about the kickoff of the department's Green Book sites investigation.

Terri Gentry, History Colorado's engagement manager for Black communities, said it is crucial for people to attend those meetings.

“So much of this history has been invisible or discounted or dismissed and only maintained by word of mouth or in the memory of elders," she said. "Coming together like this allows us to remember and preserve our past while also declaring that our history matters and deserves to be part of the national record.”

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These meetings come in the wake of an initial survey plan, which was completed using a State Historical Funds grant, said Patrick Eidman, History Colorado's chief preservation officer and deputy state historic preservation officer.

The community meetings will "take us much deeper into studying individual sites across the state of Colorado," he said.

"I think this project in particular — it's really important to talk to people that experienced this history because we're not talking, you know, hundreds of years ago. This was pretty recent," he said.

Gentry said there are a lot of things that happened to Black people that only their community knows about. Those stories were passed along through oral histories before people passed away.

"We still have some folks that have had actual experiences," she said. "And I think it needs to be placed in the platform that discusses American history. It's not Black history — it's American history. So we need to look at all of these multiple perspectives on experiences and what's transpired since the United States became the United States."

Eidman said it is vital for Colorado's inventory of historic places to better represent Coloradans whose histories were marginalized, obscured, or erased, especially because the vast majority of properties advertised in the Green Book have been lost or demolished.

"This project is an incredible way for us to make headway into equitable representation in our State and National Registers of Historic Places while also exploring how African Americans adapted and persevered despite widespread racism and racially motivated violence," Eidman said.

This Green Book sites project will also contribute to History Colorado's Colorado Heritage for All Program, which aims to add historic designations to 150 unrecognized historic resources that tell the stories of marginalized communities by the end of 2026, according to History Colorado.

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The work is funded by an Underrepresented Community Grant from the Historic Preservation Fund administered by the NPS. It's the third time History Colorado has received this grant.

Since 2014, NPS' Historic Preservation Fund has awarded $5.75 million through the Underrepresented Communities Grants program to diversify the National Register of Historic Places through surveys and nominations, according to NPS.

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