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SPLC and Community of Royal Continue to Challenge Florida's Attempt to Rewrite Black History

National Register of Historic Places concludes that boundaries in the historically Black community were not adequately or professionally documented 

ROYAL, Fla. — The National Park Service has found that the Florida State Historic Preservation Officer (Florida SHPO) failed to adequately document its revised nomination of the community of Royal to the National Register of Historic Places. The Keeper, responsible for determining the eligibility of properties seeking to be listed on the National Register, made the determination after a recent review of a petition submitted by the SPLC on behalf of Young Performing Artists, Inc. (YPAs), the nonprofit that originally led the effort to have the community added to the Register.

In its latest opinion, the Keeper again found that the Royal historic district appears to meet the criteria for listing in the National Register but that the Florida SHPO’s revised nomination continued to inadequately explain and document the boundaries and national significance of the district. The Keeper returned the first Royal nomination to the Florida SHPO for the same general reasons last September. The YPAs has found itself in the unusual position of supporting Royal being listed in the National Register while pointing out errors in each nomination submitted by the state of Florida.

“We are disappointed that the Florida SHPO submitted another nomination that failed to address the same set of issues identified by the Keeper in the SHPO’s first nomination,” said Kirsten Anderson, SPLC’s deputy legal director of economic justice. “Royal’s nomination has been pending since July of 2023. It’s time for the Florida SHPO to work in partnership with community members, including the YPAs, Inc., to make sure that it has accurate and complete information prior to resubmitting the nomination to the Keeper for a third time.”

The Keeper found that the Florida SHPO’s boundary justification in the revised nomination is “murky and inconsistent.” In each of its nominations, the Florida SHPO does not adequately justify why it excludes certain African American-owned properties from the historic district despite evidence showing that these properties have long been a part of the community of Royal, which dates back to the 1860s.

Furthermore, in spite of Royal being one of only two remaining Black homesteading communities in the U.S., the Florida SHPO has not adequately addressed the community’s national significance in either nomination. Both nominations by the state of Florida only show Royal as having local and state significance. 

“In the midst of efforts to rewrite Black history, the Community of Royal is a testament of survival,” said Beverly Steele, founder of Young Performing Artists, Inc. “We have the opportunity to become the first rural historic district in the state of Florida. It has been extremely disappointing that the state is not treating our proven history with the dignity that it deserves. We are asking that the Florida SHPO continue a collaborative effort with us, one that is transparent and truthful to the historic boundaries of Royal.”

Royal is an unincorporated community located in Sumter County in central Florida.  The community was settled by newly emancipated Black Americans who obtained 40-acre or more parcels under the Homestead Act of 1862.  The boundaries of the Royal rural historic district are important because listing on the National Register will afford this community some procedural protections that will help to maintain its historic character in the face of encroaching development. Home to The Villages, Sumter County is the fastest-growing county in Florida.