The National Register of Historic Places recognizes buildings and locations across the United States that are “worthy of preservation,” yet, in a country built on successive waves of immigration, the Register overwhelmingly acknowledges white history. With less than 8% of sites dedicated to people or events associated with women, African Americans, or other minorities, it’s time to reevaluate the criteria for listings and use this resource to shine a light on all aspects of American history.
Historic sites are designated based on significance and integrity—both highly subjective criteria that have favored events related to prominent white Americans. Integrity, in particular, can set an excessively high bar for places that haven’t enjoyed institutional protection. Sites significant to minorities have often been intentionally destroyed, displaced, or altered, thus making them ineligible for recognition in the National Register.
This year, the Register finally recognized a series of sites related to the Chicano Moratorium marches that galvanized the Chicano movement in Los Angeles in the early 1970s. Designation doesn’t just confer a title. Sites entered into the National Register become eligible for tax credits, legal protection, and other tangible benefits that can protect a site from future development. Loosening requirements for architectural integrity and streamlining the application can lower the barrier to entry for overlooked sites and let more communities take part in the process.