The most important American monuments you’ve never heard of

They need your help.

A year ago in August, white nationalists rallied in Charlottesville, Virginia, to protest a plan to remove the city’s statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee–ultimately leading to one murder and brutal beatings of counter-protestors. The violence brought dozens of local battles over monuments into national focus. In the time since, debate has raged over how to treat historical markers devoted to people whose legacies include fighting for the preservation of slavery, subjugating native peoples, or oppressing women. New York City convened a task force to study the problem, while artists in Philadelphia, New Orleans, and other cities rallied to create more inclusive monuments to previously unacknowledged figures.


A new list of endangered historical sites around the country is a welcome reminder that historic monuments that reflect the diversity and nuance of all Americans abound across the country–but they’re often underfunded and overlooked.

The Most Endangered list is published annually by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and this year’s crop includes 11 places and monuments, including the birthplace of Isaiah T. Montgomery, the former slave who founded Mound Bayou, Mississippi, after the Civil War, and Puerto Rico in general, which is badly in need of attention and funding after being ravaged by hurricanes last year. While it’s tough to quantify the list’s exact impact, the Trust reports that just 5% of the sites it has included over the last 31 years have ultimately been lost. Here are a few of this year’s highlights.

The Homes Of Mary and Eliza Freeman, Two Free 19th-Century Women Of Color

In the 19th century, a group of freed people of color–both African Americans and native peoples–built a thriving community on the edge of Bridgeport Connecticut known as Little Liberia or Ethiope. They included two free women of color–sisters Mary and Eliza Freeman–whose homes are the last structures that survive from the town. Bridgeport History Center elaborates:

Evidence points to Ethiope’s having been a major depot on the Underground Railroad, with Shinnecock Indians from Long Island ferrying those fleeing from slavery across the Sound under cover of darkness to the village’s sequestered landing place in a tidal creek. By 1850 the community came to be known as “Liberia,” evidently reflecting the pride felt by its residents in helping their brethren on the road to freedom. In the 1900s the community was affectionately referred to as “Little Liberia.”

The group trying to preserve the homes is raising money to match a new $10,000 grant to fund their restoration–check out their GoFundMe here.

The hospital built by Susan La Flesche Picotte, the first Native woman physician

Susan La Flesche Picotte was an Omaha doctor in the early 1900s who is considered the first Native American woman to earn a medical degree. Her story is endlessly inspiring: According to the Omaha World-Herald, she was the daughter of an Omaha chief and returned to the reservation after graduating from medical school to serve her community–both as a physician and an organizer. She raised thousands of dollars to build her hospital on the Omaha reservation in Nebraska without government funding. Now, the Omaha and the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs are raising money to restore the beautiful hospital as a museum and multi-use space.

The Schools Where Mexican-American Students Staged Protest Walkouts

School walkouts have been a mainstay of protest for decades. Now, five schools that played a pivotal role in the Chicano Civil Rights Movement are now under threat. In 1968, more than 20,000 students walked out of schools in Los Angeles in protest of the underfunded and underserved education offered to Mexican-American students. “Organized by high school students, these groundbreaking mass protests demanded educational equality within the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and voiced the concerns of Mexican-American students for the first time,” the National Trust for Historic Preservation explains. Now, the schools are under threat of complete demolition. The trust is organizing a petition calling for a preservation solution that would retain their history.


About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.