COMMENTARY | On June 6, the National Trust for Historic Preservation released its 25th annual list of the Most Endangered Historic Places.
According to the release, the list highlights “threatened one-of-a-kind historic treasures.” Among the past treasures to appear on the annual list and to be saved:
Independence National Historic Park (1991 and 1992) – Saved from deterioration through a$140 million public/private partnership to fund restoration.
Valley Forge National Historic Park (2000) – Saved from development through a 78-acre land swap with the national Park Service.
James Madison’s Montpelier (1991 and 1992) – Saved from deterioration and restored.
Perhaps we have saved all the “treasures” as this year’s list just does not seem to have the same historical significance. Missing are sites like our nation’s birthplace, or the scene of one the most noted Revolutionary War encampments, or the home of our fourth President designed with architectural input from our third President, Thomas Jefferson.
No, this year we are asked to find ways to save Joe Frazier’s Gym in North Philadelphia and the home of Malcolm X’s sister Ella Little-Collins in Boston.
Philadelphians admired the late Joe Frazier, a blue-collar pugilist and who used his brawling, “never quit unless you kill me” fighting style in three memorable fights against graceful and lyrical Muhammad Ali in the 1970’s. Frazier was the Rocky Balboa to Ali’s Apollo Creed, and even had a cameo in “Rocky.”
Certainly the gym run by Frazier and where he trained for the Ali fights is a nice piece of Philadelphia boxing history. But it has not been a gym for years, currently housing a bargain furniture store on the ground floor with the remaining floors vacant.
One could even argue Bernard Hopkins, and not Frazier, is the best Philadelphia fighter ever, as Frazier was born and raised in South Carolina.
Most troubling is the justification provided for the gym’s inclusion, to “promote the value of diversity within this roster of our country’s most important historic resources.”
Does this mean they bent the criteria for inclusion just because the nation needs more sites of historical significance to African-Americans, whether or not they are truly historic treasures?
The same question applies to the inclusion of the Ella Little-Collins House. There can be no arguing Malcolm X would be included on the Mount Rushmore of Civil Rights alongside Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers, and Rosa Parks.
But the home belonged to Malcolm’s sister, and he lived there only from ages 14-16. None of his significant civil rights activities occurred there.
It is a nice plaque to hang on the wall of an old inn that “George Washington slept here” but temporary inhabitance does not alone infer historical significance.
We must find a financial way to save our national treasures. That requires money. We must first find ways to raise awareness before we can raise those funds.
But awarding “historical significance” based on the “value of diversity” is not the answer. It is a disgrace.