U.S. House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn spoke to guests and reporters at Zion Baptist Church in Columbia recently to celebrate the Reconstruction Era National Historic Park Act and the establishment of the Reconstruction Era National Historic Network.

The act was passed by the House and Senate in February as part of the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act. The law redesignates the Reconstruction Era National Monument as a national park in Beaufort County. It also establishes the Reconstruction Era National Historic Network, which will be operated by the National Park Service and managed by current site owners, whether federal, state, local or private.

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“South Carolina will be the hub of a new national network that will stretch across the country,” said Clyburn, who represents South Carolina’s 6th Congressional District. “Any place that indicates a relationship to the Reconstruction Era will be able to participate, allowing small and rural communities throughout South Carolina to participate in our number one industry – tourism.”

The historic network concept has been utilized in the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom and the African American Civil Rights Network. With the Reconstruction Era National Historic Network in place, communities can make their case for federal recognition and assistance for their significant sites without the National Park Service having to take on the obligation of owning or managing the sites. The congressman expects the new legislation to have a significant economic impact in South Carolina.

“We are told that over 500,000 people every year plan their vacations through consulting the National Parks Service,” Clyburn said. “This means that South Carolina will be well positioned to have new people coming to our state and helping our economy. And I hope that they will come back time and time again.”

Clyburn sees the Reconstruction Era National Park and Reconstruction Era National Historic Network providing an in-depth understanding of the diverse experiences of the nation’s history and more opportunities for heritage tourism, which is the fastest growing area in the tourism industry.

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Zion Baptist Church is just one example of a site that could be eligible for the Reconstruction Era National Historic Network. The church was first organized in 1865 and moved to its current site on Washington Street in 1871. Another potential site in the state capital is the Woodrow Wilson Family Home, which was built in 1869 and is currently the nation’s only museum dedicated to interpreting the post-Civil War Reconstruction period.

With Clyburn’s guidance, an equally important piece of legislation also was approved in February as part of the Lands Package: the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Historic Preservation reauthorization.

In 1998, at the request of the Congressional Black Caucus, the Government Accountability Office conducted a survey of preservation needs at HBCUs that found 712 structures on 103 HBCU campuses in need of historic preservation. The projected cost to preserve and restore those buildings was $755 million. To date, more than 60 buildings on HBCU campuses in 20 states have been renovated through the HBCU Historic Preservation program managed by the National Park Service.

The program, which is being reauthorized at $10 million annually for seven years, has had a visible impact locally. Buildings at HBCUs in South Carolina have been restored, including Ministers and Tingley Halls at Claflin University and Massachusetts Hall at Voorhees College in Denmark.

The focus on preserving history is not new for Clyburn. And as longtime advocates of preservation and restoration, we join in thanking him for making history a priority.

His words tell us why it must be: “Throughout my tenure in Congress, I have worked to preserve and protect our nation’s most treasured historical sites and institutions. These federal designations and investments will bring new life to historic buildings and parks across the country, some of which were built by student labor and designed by unsung black architects. Even today the history of the Reconstruction Era and the role of Historically Black Colleges and Universities is not well understood. This package not only preserves and protects buildings on HBCU campuses and Reconstruction Era sites, but it also documents and promotes the history of Reconstruction, which is critical to avoiding past mistakes and guiding our pursuit of a more perfect union.”

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