Montana Historical Society

Big Sky ~ Big History

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In 2005 and again in 2007, the Montana Cultural Trust granted the Montana Historical Society funding for its Identifying Montana’s African American Heritage Resources project. Historians, staff, and volunteers combed the Montana Historical Society collections for manuscripts, oral histories, newspaper articles, artifacts, census records, and photographs that told the stories of the state’s African-American residents. From there, researchers compiled and annotated primary- and secondary-source bibliographies and several biographical databases. They also transcribed, onto spreadsheets, the information on African-American residents in Montana listed in the 1870, 1910, and 1930 censuses. The project staff developed timelines, lesson plans, and a website on Montana’s African-American history and historical resources. The goal of these first phases was to make more visible an understudied group of Montanans.

Beginning in 2014, a second phase of the project sought to identify extant properties significantly associated with Helena’s African-American history. That year, the National Park Service awarded an Underrepresented Community Grant to the Montana State Historic Preservation Office’s “Identifying Montana African American Heritage Places Project.” Over the next two years, the Montana History Foundation provided nearly $10,000 in additional support. 

With this funding, staff, interns, and local volunteers statewide compiled 25 historic property inventories statewide.  The Identifying Montana’s African American Heritage Places project also hired Delia Hagen, PhD, to complete an additional 26 property records for Helena, a new Multiple Properties Documentation form titled “African American Heritage Places in Helena, MT,” and two National Register of Historic Places nominations forms:  the Crump-Howard House and the Dorsey Grocery and Residence.  The historic property records are also available on the Montana History Portal in a new collection titled “Montana’s African American Heritage Places.”


Both the National Park Service’s Underrepresented Communities Grant Program and the Montana History Foundation funding were intrinsic the success of this project. Grants from these institutions supported not only the research and documentation, but also the content and design updates to this website. 

In addition the Carroll College Department of History and the August and Mary Sobotka Education Trust Fund Internship supported the placement of three student interns who worked on this project.

The Montana Cultural Trust has continued to support the project, with a grant from the Montana Cultural and Aesthetic projects grant program to support additional research and website updates in 2020 and 2021. Through this project, we are funded in part by coal severance taxes paid based upon coal mined in Montana and deposited in Montana's cultural and aesthetic projects trust fund.

National Park Service, Montana History Foundation, Montana Cultural Trust logos

Project People:

Historian Anthony Wood worked on the Identifying Montana’s African American Heritage Places project for three years, first as an undergraduate intern, later as a volunteer and temporary employee, and finally as a contractor.  Wood completed the majority of the essays, in addition to 20 historic property records, and the original sketches found on this website and in the storymaps.  His contribution and dedication has been extraordinary.

On behalf of this project, Historian and Cultural Resource Specialist Delia Lee Hagen surveyed and documented 26 properties in the City of Helena, authored the “African American Heritage Places in Helena, MT” MPD, as well as the Crump-Howard House and the Dorsey Grocery and Residence National Register of Historic Places nominations.  Hagen has worked as a professional historian for nearly two decades, and received her PhD in History from UC-Berkeley in 2015.

Historian and educator Alan Thompson graciously interviewed five members of Montana’s African American community for this project.  These oral histories offer insight and personality to the black experience in Montana through the twentieth century.  Thompson also worked on the first phase of the project, identifying images from the Montana Historical Society’s Photograph Archives related to African American history.

August and Mary Sobotka Education Trust Fund Intern Diana Nettleton spent the Summer of 2016 creating five historic property records.  Nettleton also diligently researched and wrote essays that highlight the African American history of Havre, Miles City, and Missoula that appear in the Places portion of this website. With BAs in History and Archaeology from the University of Montana, Nettleton plans to study historic preservation in graduate school.

Historian Scott Meredith worked on the first phase of the Identifying Montana’s African American Heritage Resources project between 2006 and 2009.  Meredith contributed countless hours writing, researching, and documenting.  In particular, he combed the 1870, 1910, and 1930 censuses for information on each person of African American heritage identified.  He transcribed that information to a searchable database, and generated reports available on the Resources and Research page of this website. 

Between 2006 and 2009, Historian and Curator Patty Dean created a database of artifacts, photographs, oral histories, and manuscript collections housed at the Montana Historical Society.  This information formed the basis of the MHS Collections page of this website.  Together with Scott Meredith, Dean compiled the timeline as well.

In addition to those acknowledged above, Montana Historical Society staff from every department – Museum, Research Center, Outreach and Education, Administration, Publications, and the State Historic Preservation Office – contributed time and expertise to this project.  We hope you find it interesting and informative.

This material is based upon work assisted by grants from the Department of the Interior, National Park Service and the Montana History Foundation. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of the Interior nor the Montana History Foundation.