ANNAPOLIS, Md. – A new multi-state partnership aims to shine a light on hidden African American history in the Chesapeake Bay area.

The National Park Service is joining with conservation and historic organizations in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia to document neglected Black cultural sites and landscapes.

It’s a first step to make sure the locations are protected and their stories told, according to Allison Luthern, architectural survey administrator with the Maryland Historic Trust, one of the groups involved in the project.

In a national climate of racial tension, she said she thinks the project is timely – and overdue.

“It’s of utmost importance today,” said Luthern. “Because these places are endangered by a variety of threats, including lack of awareness and systemic disinvestment, development and climate change.”

She pointed out the Bay region is rich with African American history and culture, from the Civil War to the civil rights movement. And Maryland was where Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass were enslaved.

Cultural sites that may be important to people of color, like cemeteries, churches, and schools, are often not prioritized for conservation, Luthern said. She noted that even though historic trusts have tracked cultural areas in the Bay region, they are sometimes overlooked.

“Our documentation and our research of historic sites in Maryland, we’ve tended to focus on, you know, high-styled buildings,” said Luthern. “And we absolutely need to make a better effort to document and research the places that are more reflective of everyone.”

The group, which also includes the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership, has $400,000 in initial funding for pilot programs in each of the three states to identify sites and landscapes. The states will then be able to use the information to help inform their land use and development plans.