Clyburn Floor Statement on H.R. 295, to Reauthorize the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Historic Preservation Program

Sep 12, 2016

WASHINGTON – U.S. House Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn (SC) delivered the following statement during debate on H.R. 295, which passed the House unanimously by voice vote (as prepared for delivery):

“Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of H.R. 295, my bill to reauthorize the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Historic Preservation program.  This bill has been cosponsored by my colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus and is broadly supported by all of our colleagues.  It received a unanimous vote in the House Natural Resources Committee earlier this year, and I thank all of my colleagues for their support.

“As a former high school history teacher, I have worked during my tenure in Congress to preserve and protect our nation’s historic treasures.  Historically Black Colleges and Universities, commonly called HBCUs, are some of the most important historic educational institutions in our country.  Many of them have buildings and sites on their campuses that have existed for over a century. Unfortunately, many of the historic buildings and sites on these campuses have deteriorated over the years and are at risk of being lost completely if not preserved and protected. 

“In 1998, at the request of the Congressional Black Caucus, the U.S Government Accountability Office (GAO) surveyed 103 HBCU campuses to identify the historically significant sites on these campuses and project the cost of restoring and preserving these properties.  The GAO identified 712 historic buildings and sites, and projected a cost of $755 million to restore and preserve them.  Each of these sites has national significance to American history, and I believe we have an obligation to be stewards of these cultural treasures.

“Congress first authorized grants to HBCUs for historic preservation in 1996.  In 2003, working with our former colleague Jim Hansen of Utah and our current colleague, and my friend, Jimmy Duncan of Tennessee, Congress expanded the program that was originally championed by our former colleague Bob Clement, also of Tennessee.  $10 million was authorized annually for five years. 

“The bill before us today extends that authorization at the same level for an additional seven years.  I have seen the transformative effect of these historic preservation grants on HBCU campuses in my district and across the country.  Arnett Hall at Allen University in Columbia, South Carolina, was designed by an African American architect and constructed by the university students themselves in 1891. 

“Before being restored to the Secretary of Interior’s standards, Arnett Hall had been boarded up for nearly 40 years.  Testifying before the Committee on Natural Resources earlier this year, Claflin University’s President, Dr. Henry Tisdale spoke of the tremendous impact the restorations of Ministers and Tingley Halls have had on his institution. 

“Last June, I spoke at the rededication of historic Chappelle Auditorium, on the campus of Allen University which was painstakingly restored thanks to funding from this program.  Originally built in 1925, this building was central to the cultural life of African Americans in South Carolina for generations. 

“In 1947, Rev. Joseph A. DeLaine attended an NAACP event at Chappelle Auditorium that inspired him to organize black families in Clarendon County to petition their school district to provide buses for black students who, at the time, were forced to make a daily walk of 9.4 miles to school.  This case, Briggs v. Elliot, precipitated the frontal attack on segregation in the country and was later combined with four other cases that became Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas at the U.S. Supreme Court.  Overturning the “separate but equal” fallacy, Brown ended legal segregation.

“Historic buildings and sites at 59 HBCUs in 20 states have benefitted from this program.  Their stories are similar to those in my district that I have just shared. 

“There are many more buildings and sites on these campuses that are in dire need of restoration and preservation.  H.R. 295 will renew our commitment to the stewardship of this critical aspect of American history. 

“Although it will not provide all of the funding the GAO estimated is needed to preserve every threatened site, H.R. 295 will continue the progress Congress has made in preserving these unique treasures. 

“I thank Chairman Bishop, Subcommittee Chairman McClintock, and Ranking Members Grijalva and Tsongas for their support of this important legislation.  I urge all of my colleagues to support this bill.  Thank you.”