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  • Writer's pictureValerie Harris

Building Blocks for Black Heritage Preservation: The Conference, The Mission

I break for a moment from the story of Laura Wheeler Waring to reflect upon a recent meeting in Philadelphia that spoke to much of the reason I write this blog.

people at the Building Blocks for Black Heritage Conference, April 2024, Philadelphia
Black Heritage Preservation Conference Attendees

On Saturday, April 27, 2024 I had the pleasure of attending Building Blocks for Black Heritage Preservation—a daylong conference presented by The Friends of the Tanner House, UPenn’s Center for the Preservation of Civil Rights Sites (CPCRS), and the Community Design Collaborative, a nonprofit devoted to helping groups explore community development opportunities.

The conference focused primarily on preserving community-based historic sites and used as an example the exemplary work of the Friends of the Henry Ossawa Tanner House in North Philadelphia.  Tanner, you may recall, having achieved exceptional success as an artist by the early 1900s, was a primary role model for Laura Wheeler Waring.

I was there representing Historic Eden Cemetery, one of 20 projects—including two other African American burial grounds—invited to attend. Our goal at Eden is to produce an audio project that will relay a brief story of some of the many prominent “residents” interred at Eden in its 122-year history. 

One of those “residents” is Laura Wheeler Waring. Another is her long-time friend and collaborator, writer, Jessie Redmon Fauset. Others include the opera diva, Marian Anderson; Free Library of Philadelphia architect, Julian Abele; 19th century civil rights martyr, Octavius Catto; and William Still, chronicler of the Underground Railroad. And hundreds more who were prominent in their day and whose contributions to Philadelphia, their chosen profession, and to African American culture overall is of historical significance.

notables buried at Historic Eden Cemetery
Historic Eden Cemetery brochure

Their stories should be told.

And that’s why I’ve created this blog. That’s why I support Historic Eden Cemetery. And the Paul Robeson House & Museum. My mission: Biography as Cultural Preservation.

For biography is simply an account of the life of somethinga person, place or a thing, such as a house, a landscape, even a painting.   An account that reveals, restores, contextualizes, and preserves the story of a person, place or thing.

Whereby future generations can be inspired by the obstacles and achievements of generations past.

It was amazing to spend the day with a group of people who appreciate the historical significance of our collective ancestors and community spaces. I felt like I’d found my tribe.

The most important takeaway? The message that the strongest tool we have—for raising funds, awareness, and community engagement—is our storytelling.

And what fascinating stories we have to share!

For more on the Henry Ossawa Tanner House project visit

To learn more about Historic Eden Cemetery visit


© 2023-2026 Valerie Harris. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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