The Center for the Preservation of Civil Rights Sites (CPCRS) is an academic research center committed to the remembering, studying, and stewarding of civil rights histories in the United States. We undertake research, teaching, and fieldwork to explore issues and solutions and develop pathways toward the sustainable conservation of civil rights heritage and related stories of Black cultural vibrancy and activism.

Founded in 2020, the Center for the Preservation of Civil Rights Sites formed through a teaching-fieldwork-research partnership between the University of Pennsylvania and Tuskegee University. Since its inception, CPCRS has received additional funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to center applied learning and engagement in the advancement of the conservation, education, and stewardship of sites connected to the long Black freedom struggle in the United States, with a particular focus in Philadelphia and Alabama, the partnership’s respective localities.  


How We Work

Everyday Spaces and Iconic Sites

CPCRS seeks to preserve the heritage of civil rights in all its forms. This includes iconic places already recognized as heritage sites, vernacular buildings and landscapes, and cultural memories of spaces no longer accessible. 

Building on Traditions 

CPCRS strives to honor and support our organizational partners’ traditions of education, storytelling, and community stewardship, to remember the profound and significant civil rights stories — tragic and triumphant — across the country.

Always in Partnership

CPCRS collaborates with preservation advocates, government agencies, stewardship organizations, and other educational organizations engaged in remembering, studying, and stewarding the legacy of the United States civil rights history.

Our Methods


CPCRS undertakes research on several fronts. Our team explores basic questions about understanding, responding to and sustaining heritage places associated with civil rights. We are probing the history and geography of civil rights heritage, the practical preservation needs and potentials specific to civil rights sites, and the community values connecting these sites to their stakeholders’ lives. Our research also aims to illuminate the history of specific sites, documenting interpreting them in collaboration with other disciplines. 

We are searching for deeper understanding and more effective practices. We are interested in questions about what make a place a “civil rights” site? What are the benefits of acknowledging, repairing and reusing such places? How well are the full range of sites and narratives represented in current practice and scholarships? How must our practices and field shift to meet the future heritage needs of society? 

Civil rights heritage work, we believe, will change the community of practice around historic preservation in the US – but how? The Center’s research produces basic knowledge; tests ideas and methods; and discusses, debates and publishes models for conservation, design and management for places marked by civil rights narratives. 


In classrooms, studios, labs, and in the field – Weitzman School of Design educators and students collaborate to bring preservation philosophies and principles “down to the ground.” This is done literally, where building meets site, and metaphorically, where desires to commemorate and reflect on the past meet the urgent political and pragmatic needs of the present. 

Penn faculty and Center partners apply new methods and questions into curriculum, conversations, and initiatives. As our colleague Brent Leggs frames it, "we are telling the full story of the American experience.”  

CPCRS is dedicated to creating training and educational opportunities for future ranks of preservation professionals. Deepening existing partnerships and continuing to create new partnerships is essential to success. We acknowledge that preservation must embrace sites and narratives representing core, abiding issues of civil rights for progress to be actualized -- and ultimately decolonize traditional preservation practices. 


The Center organizes field projects to apply research and teaching to the practical challenges faced by sites, their organizations and stakeholders. These projects challenge us to co-develop ideas, techniques and partnerships that can be applied on the ground and in community. 

Through fieldwork, CPCRS can test ideas from research, reinforce learning goals, and work to achieve community impact. All our efforts are directed to holistic approaches to preservation – in terms of scale, community needs, material realities, creative opportunities, management, and financing. Currently, the Center’s fieldwork focuses on Philadelphia and Alabama, and on sites of modest scale. 

Fieldwork undertaken by other research groups in the Weitzman School of Design – including the Urban Heritage Project, Architectural Conservation Lab and PennPraxis – also provide opportunities to link civil rights heritage issues with cultural landscape, planning, conservation, design and management projects. 

Student Internships & Fellowships

CPCRS currently offers graduate research assistant positions during the academic year and summer to current Penn students. In these roles, students support various projects, from events to research, design, and communications. Positions are posted via the Historic Preservation Department at the beginning of the academic year and summer for current Penn graduate students to apply to. 

We also offer select fellowships to emerging and early career professionals to expand their current research via invitation. 

Our Partners

We partner with and support organizations that make and manage heritage sites marking profound stories of the American experience. 

Photo by Sarah Lerner.