Washington, D.C. – Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn delivered the following statement during House debate of H.R. 1135 which would reauthorize the HBCU Historic Preservation program for seven years. The bill passed the House unanimously. (as prepared for delivery):
“Mr. Speaker, as a student and former teacher of history, 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.
“There are over 100 HBCUs in the country and eight of them are in South Carolina. I proudly represent seven of them and am a graduate of one. Many of them have buildings and sites on their campuses that have existed for over a century, and are of great historical significance. 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.
“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 and authorized expenditures of 10 million dollars annually for five years. I have seen the results firsthand. Last year, Allen University rededicated the historic Chappelle Auditorium on its campus in Columbia, South Carolina, 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.
“The legal case that grew from this petition, Briggs v. Elliot, precipitated the frontal attack on segregation in the country and was later combined with four other later 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 throughout America.
“This is just a singular example of the history living on HBCU campuses. Because of our past efforts, historic buildings and sites at 59 HBCUs in 20 states have received funding from this program. However many historic structures are still endangered.
“Consequently, in the omnibus appropriations bill for 2017 passed earlier this year, Congress included $4 million for HBCU Historic Preservation. H.R. 1135 continues the progress Congress has made in preserving these unique treasures.
“Last year, the House passed this bill unanimously, but it was not taken up by the Senate. I thank Chairman Bishop and Ranking Member Grijalva for supporting it again today. This bill is supported by the United Negro College Fund, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The HBCU Historic Preservation Program serves an essential purpose to HBCUs, which have a special place in the fabric of American history, culture and education. Countless individuals have worked tirelessly to cultivate HBCUs, and their legacy is seen in graduates whose achievements adorn the pages of American history. From Booker T. Washington to Mary McLeod Bethune; W.E.B. DuBois to Martin Luther King, Jr., HBCU visionaries and graduates have set powerful examples of leadership.
“The legacy of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) is one of significant courage and steadfast determination. The structures on these campuses across the country are living testaments to African American history and deserve to be stabilized and restored. HBCUs are among America’s national treasures that must be preserved and protected for future generations.
“Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I urge all my colleagues to support this needed legislation.”