One of last surviving Black homestead communities in the U.S. fights for rightful place in American history
ROYAL, Fla. — In a recent opinion, the National Park Service found that the central Florida community of Royal appears to meet the criteria for the National Register of Historic Places. Settled in the 1860s by Freedmen who obtained 40-acre or more parcels under the Homestead Act of 1862, Royal is one of only two surviving Black homesteading communities in the United States.
The Keeper of the National Register made this determination in evaluating the petition submitted by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) on behalf of Young Performing Artists, Inc. (YPAs).
In its petition, YPAs, Inc. supported the Florida State Historic Preservation Officer’s (FL SHPO) nomination of Royal as Florida’s first rural historic district to the Register. However, the community organization claimed that the FL SHPO failed to adequately justify the boundaries of the Royal historic district and clearly excluded historically African American-owned parcels of land. The Keeper agreed and returned the nomination to the FL SHPO to better document its boundaries.
“This is about the justice of having Royal’s historic boundaries nationally recognized and correctly recorded to acknowledge how hard our ancestors fought to keep this land,” said Beverly Steele, founder of Young Performing Artists, Inc., the nonprofit that launched the effort to get Royal on the Register. “Our community has stood the test of time, and the land has passed from generation to generation against all odds. Rosewood and Santos, two other Black communities in Florida, were lost. Royal is a testament to survival.”
In its petition, YPAs, Inc., contended that the state arbitrarily redrew the proposed boundaries to exclude properties that otherwise fit within the historical boundaries of Royal. “We are pleased that the Keeper has returned the nomination back to the state of Florida to reconsider its decision to reduce Royal’s historically supported boundaries and to correct other deficiencies in the nomination” said Kirsten Anderson, deputy legal director for Economic Justice at the SPLC.
The YPAs’ petition also argued that the FL SHPO’s nomination should have acknowledged Royal’s national significance, in addition to its local and state significance. In returning the nomination to the FL SHPO, the Keeper did not rule out Royal’s eligibility for national significance and provided both parties with guidance on how to demonstrate this highest level of recognition.
“Our elders made certain that everyone benefited through the land,” continued Steele. “It is important that I do my part to preserve and protect the characteristics of this place and that includes national acknowledgement of Royal’s place in American history.”
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