S. 3667

African-American Burial Grounds Preservation Act

STATEMENT OF MICHAEL A. CALDWELL, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, PARK PLANNING, FACILITIES, AND LANDS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SENATE ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, CONCERNING S. 3667, A BILL TO AMEND TITLE 54, UNITED STATES CODE, TO ESTABLISH WITHIN THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE THE U.S. AFRICAN-AMERICAN BURIAL GROUNDS PRESERVATION PROGRAM.

MAY 11, 2022

Chairman King, Ranking Member Daines, and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interior’s views on S. 3667, a bill to amend title 54, United States Code, to establish within the National Park Service the U.S. African-American Burial Grounds Preservation Program.

The Department supports S. 3667.

S. 3667 would direct the Secretary of the Interior to establish a program within the National Park Service to be known as the “United States African-American Burial Grounds Preservation Program.”  The program would be authorized to make grants to, and enter into cooperative agreements with, other Federal agencies, State, local, and Tribal governments; other public entities; educational institutions; historic preservation groups; and private nonprofit organizations for the identification, preservation, restoration, and interpretation of African American burial grounds.  S. 3667 would also authorize three million dollars to be appropriated annually for each of the fiscal years from 2023 to 2027 for carrying out this grant program.  Finally, S. 3667 stipulates that the bill does not authorize the Secretary to impose any conditions on the use or management of private property without the written consent of the owner, nor prohibit the Secretary from providing guidance to a private property owner on the management of their land as a condition of a grant.

African American burial grounds are part of the significant story of the role African Americans have played in the creation of the United States.  These sacred spaces are often located in unknown and unmaintained locations, due to the painful and enduring legacy of slavery and segregation at the time of their creation, leaving the stories and the sites hidden. 

In establishing the African American Burial Grounds Preservation Program, S. 3667 would assist in the identification, interpretation, preservation, research, and recordation of unmarked, previously abandoned, underserved, and other African American burial grounds.  This program would increase public awareness of African American history, and these often overlooked and forgotten sites, while providing critical grant funding to support their long-term preservation. 

The Department acknowledges that this program would need to be implemented with great care and consideration as many African American burial grounds were deliberately unmarked to facilitate a final resting place, particularly during both the period when slavery was legally authorized in the United States and in ensuing decades when segregation limited the freedom of African Americans, even in choices related to how they commemorated their lives and deaths.

This program, as outlined in the bill, would need to be implemented in a respectful and collaborative manner to ensure already fragile and sacred resources do not become damaged or vandalized if and when their locations are publicly known.  The Department and the National Park Service would be honored to support and respectfully implement the African-American Burial Grounds Preservation Program. 

Chairman King, this concludes my statement.  I would be pleased to answer any questions you or other members of the Subcommittee may have.

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