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Montgomery embarks on effort to document civil rights sites

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Researchers in Montgomery are in the midst of recording the city’s civil rights history in a new way.

Three archaeologists and an architect are wearing yellow vests and carrying iPads. They’re snapping pictures and recording information about every structure built before 1969.

It’s part of a two-week effort, when Paleowest Archaeology will comb through 2,500 structures in west Montgomery neighborhoods to identify culturally significant buildings, histories and landmarks related to the struggle for civil rights.

Once the data is compiled, a historian and researcher will comb through the information to provide a complete history of the culturally significant neighborhoods, The Montgomery Advertiser reported.

“Montgomery has a rich civil rights history,” Robert Smith, planning director for the city, told the newspaper. “The city does not have a comprehensive document of that civil rights history.”

Observations being gathered include the architectural features of buildings and their style, while noting any additions or alterations, said Julie Duggins, office principal in Tallahassee, Florida, for Paleowest.

Once that is complete, they will also interview important figures in the communities and compile historic events to create the overall historical record, she said.

There is no set deadline, though they are working to compile much of the information by early 2020, Duggins said.

Montgomery received $50,000 from the federal government, which was part of a combined $12.6 million in aid given by the National Park Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior.

“This is a great project that the city of Montgomery envisioned and applied for a grant to support,” Duggins said. “We see ourselves as the worker bees out in the urban core documenting the structures.”

The completed history will also help direct future grant applications for repairs, give guidance to private owners in the area and build a more complete map of the city’s historic sites, Smith said.

“Everybody knows the biggies, the Dexter Avenue Church, the Mount Zion,” Smith said. “There are some other locations that are not totally known by the masses and we want to try to unearth that.”

Eight other Alabama sites were chosen, including the renovations of Mount Zion, the Ben Moore building, the Perry County Jailhouse, Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and Brown AME Chapel.

Other cities around the nation will be completing similar work.

Projects in other cities include the preservation of a New Jersey baseball stadium that was home to a Negro National League team; the home of civil rights activist March Church Terrell in Washington, D.C.; and the last standing African American officers’ club at Fort Huachuca in Arizona. Other cities will complete projects similar to Montgomery, where they document and record oral histories, important structures and identify lesser-known sites.

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