Moton Museum’s Cainan Townsend named to state task force

Published 2:32 pm Monday, June 3, 2024

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The numbers don’t look great. Just 2% of the 95,000 sites on the National Register of Historic Places focus on the lives and stories of Black Americans. That’s where Cainan Townsend and the rest of the Virginia African-American Cultural Resources Task Force come in. Townsend was appointed on Friday, May 31 by Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin to serve as one of six appointees on the board. 

The goal here is to highlight more of Virginia’s history when it comes to African-American sites and stories. In 2017, the Virginia General Assembly decided to do something about the dramatically low number of sites recognized on the National Register. What’s so important about getting on the Register? If your site is on the Register, then it’s a sign the federal government decides the project is worthy of preserving. That makes it a lot easier to secure grant funding for those rebuilding/renovation projects. 

And that’s the focus of the task force, to identify, promote and help find ways to conserve Virginia’s Black cultural resources. It’s set up with a board including four members of the General Assembly, six people appointed by Virginia’s governor and five ‘ex-officio’ members, that is people from places like the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and the Virginia Tourism Corporation. 

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Townsend was an original appointee when the group started in 2017. Now he’s headed back, after being appointed by another governor. 

“It is tremendous for me, being reappointed,” Townsend said. ‘Being able to continue public service to the Commonwealth in a way that preserves and interprets this history is very fulfilling and important work.” 

Cainan Townsend wears a lot of hats in the area. He works as executive director for the Moton Museum in Farmville, while also serving on the Prince Edward County School Board. Given the subject matter, there could be some overlap between the task force and Moton, where the museum staff is able to help, he told the Herald. But Moton is not officially involved in the taskforce. 

Cainan Townsend focuses on work

In a way, the idea is to first identify some of these properties, locations and overall places that might not show up in history books or on a map. Some of these places have been changed from their original use and have to be identified again. Several of Virginia’s Rosenwald Schools, for example, constantly show up on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places each year. These schools were created by philanthropist Julius Rosenwald in 1912 to help Black students in the segregated rural South. But some of those buildings are now more than or nearly 100 years old. Others, like the Ellis Acres Park in Buckingham County, have been altered into something completely different. 

Then, once identified, the question comes about how to market these places that have, throughout history, been less than marketed. That includes even some spots that already have historic markers, but aren’t exactly well known. How do you draw people to these locations? What’s the best way of telling these stories? Some of that includes through projects like The Preservation Academy. That was a series of virtual workshops done in connection with Preservation Virginia, including live lectures from experts in historical preservation and Q & A sessions to help groups get organized and better understand what they need to do.