In 2018, the National Park Service awarded the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office a $30,000 grant to develop a historical context that would help to document and nominate Pennsylvania’s African American churches and cemeteries to the National Register of Historic Places. The Pennsylvania Hallowed Grounds worked in partnership with the PA SHPO to apply for the grant, and the board provided input on the MPDF draft documents.
This Multiple Property Documentation Form, American American Cemeteries and Churches in Pennsylvania, c.1644 – 1970, written by Shelby Splain of the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office, was approved by the National Park Service in 2021.
This document provides a detailed overview of Pennsylvania’s African American history and the ways that African American church buildings and burial grounds illustrate that history. It also specifies the different types of African American churches and cemeteries that exist in the state, and the features that make individual sites eligible for the National Register.
By approving this document, the National Park Service recognized that African American churches and cemeteries in Pennsylvania are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places due to their unique importance as historic resources that illustrate the state’s African American history. This is particularly important because the National Register of Historic Place generally does not include cemeteries on the National Register. In fact, the National Register criteria states: “Ordinarily cemeteries…shall not be considered eligible for the National Register.”
Winning this formal acknowledgement from the National Park Service that Pennsylvania’s African American cemeteries deserve to be recognized as significant historical resources worthy of listing on the National Register of Historic Places was a major step forward for preserving our state’s historic African American burial grounds. We hope this will also provide a model for the National Park Service to extend similar recognition to the rest of the nation.
To read the full PDF document, click the button below:
For more information and guidance on the process of listing a cemetery on the National Register of Historic Places, contact the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office: https://www.phmc.pa.gov/Preservation.