Statement on George Floyd and Systemic Racism

Bayard Rustin in front of the National Headquarters for the March on Washington for Jobs & Freedom Associated Press, “March on Washington,” photographer: anonymous, August 1963

From “Central Harlem – West 130th-132nd Streets Historic District” Designation Report, NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, 2018


Everything the Historic Districts Council does starts and ends in community. Although our work is based on place, places mean nothing without people and it is the vibrant, safe, sharing, equal treatment of people which animates our work and drives our mission. Implicit in HDC’s work to advocate for historic places is the belief that places are for everyone. We titled our annual conference “Open to the Public” for this reason.

HDC is horrified by the killing of George Floyd, who was slain not only because of the actions of a few police officers but also because of centuries of implicit barriers erected to divide and demonize communities. The tragedy of Mr. Floyd’s death is multiplied over and over by the countless African-Americans, people of color and other minorities who have been stolen from, imprisoned, abused, beaten and murdered by a societal system which allows blatant discrimination to continue to exist, if not flourish. Breonna Taylor was killed by police, Ahmaud Arbery was gunned down while jogging, bird watcher Christian Cooper was falsely accused and threatened with institutional violence because he spoke up about a dog being illegally off-leash, NYC teacher Rana Mungin died after being twice denied a COVID-19 test and these are only the well-known victims of systemic racism from the past few months. The list goes on endlessly and no one who believes in a just and equitable society can let this stand or continue.

It would be simple for HDC to “stay in our lane” and keep silent about this issue which doesn’t appear to affect historic buildings (save those which have been harmed) but we believe that would both be wrong and incorrect. It would be wrong because remaining silent about  a grave injustice is to condone it and we all have done that for too long. It would be incorrect because the goal of preserving historic buildings is to build a better future and without changing our society, that would be impossible.

We owe to our successors to do everything we can to build a better future; we owe it to ourselves to make a better present.

Here are some links to help forward this conversation: