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County Board to consider $25k grant for GMU to study local Black history

George Mason University Arlington campus (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

George Mason University is set to receive a $25,000 grant from Arlington County to study Black demographic shifts and migratory trends in Arlington.

The Fairfax-based university, which has a campus in Arlington, proposes to develop a “database of research that documents Black displacement, migration, mobility, and the legacy of the Black diaspora that remains today in Arlington County,” according to a county report.

GMU envisions the database serving as a “significant learning source for Arlington and lead to future meaningful artistic projects focused on African American history,” the report says.

A team comprising GMU’s University Curator, Don Russell, visual artist Veronica Jackson, as well as several university librarians and historians, will sift through hundreds of primary documents to create the database.

This includes:

[M]aps, oral histories, census data, photographs, historic Black newspapers, travel guides, land surveys, Black businesses, real estate transactions, churches, cemeteries, schools, and related examples of Black cultural life in Arlington County, historically and contemporarily.

The grant is part of Arlington’s Historic Preservation Fund. It was established in April 2022 to support individual and community-led projects that preserve “Arlington’s history, built environment, or cultural heritage” per a county webpage.

In December, the County Board approved a form for applicants seeking either a $25,000 non-capital grant or a $100,000 capital grant. This June, GMU secured a grant earmarked for projects such as historical research and educational outreach.

The university, however, says it cannot agree to the terms of the grant as written, and is requesting a few changes. These changes are set to go before the County Board for approval this weekend.

GMU requests new wording clarifying it, as a public university, is not responsible for the county’s legal fees if the county faces a lawsuit. It also requests the ability to use the funds for an extra 90 days after the current deadline of June 30, 2024.

The university expects about $8,000 would go toward personnel costs, nearly $6,000 toward travel expenses and nearly $11,000 for general costs, including equipment, supplies and an artist fee for Jackson’s work.

Eleven other organizations and people received grants for capital projects — such as restoration, cleaning and repairs — and non-capital projects, says Historic Preservation Program Coordinator Cynthia Liccese-Torres.

She told ARLnow the county plans to share more details “once all of the grant agreements have been finalized and signed by all parties.”

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