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Thursday, June 1, 2023
June 1, 2023

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This house saw cross burning, civil rights meetings. It will be on historic register

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The Buckner house sits at 1012 N. 19th St. in Boise???s North End. The house is a part of the Harrison Boulevard neighborhood, which has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1980.
The Buckner house sits at 1012 N. 19th St. in Boise???s North End. The house is a part of the Harrison Boulevard neighborhood, which has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1980. (Catherine Odom/Idaho Statesman/TNS) Photo Gallery

BOISE, Idaho — Cherie Buckner-Webb said she was over the moon when she moved into the house at 1012 N 19th Street with her family as a young girl. She couldn’t believe they had a porch and a backyard, and that she’d have to share a room with only one of her sisters.

Buckner-Webb, Idaho’s first elected Black state legislator, moved with her parents Dorothy and Aurelius Buckner and siblings Charles, Paulette and Carol from the River Street neighborhood to the wealthy, predominantly white Harrison Boulevard neighborhood in 1957.

“I had so much joy in that house,” Buckner-Webb told the Idaho Statesman during an interview in her home.

Buckner-Webb, who still lives in Boise’s North End, choked up as she recalled moving in on N 19th Street: “I remember the day we walked in that house, I thought that it was the biggest house I had ever been in.”

The house, a Craftsman style bungalow built in 1911, became more than just where the Buckners lived. It became a meeting place where Idaho civil rights activists, including Buckner-Webb’s mother, planned and strategized, often into the late hours of the night.

Because of this rich history, the Idaho State Historic Preservation Office is honoring Dorothy Buckner and these activists by nominating the house to the National Register of Historic Places.

“There were times when all those meetings were going on that I was just like, ‘Doesn’t anybody have to go home?’” Buckner-Webb said, laughing. “I didn’t realize that so many luminaries in our community were in my front yard.”

Buckner-Webb’s mother was a preeminent figure in the civil rights movement in Idaho and a member of the Idaho Advisory Committee on Civil Rights. She was a “right fighter” whose “credo was ‘disturb the peace,’” Buckner-Webb said.

Preservation Office identifies Black history sites in Idaho

The Buckner house is one of two historic sites in a multiple-property documentation to be submitted to the national register as part of the State Historic Preservation Office’s larger effort to identify Black history sites in Idaho.

The other site is the Bethel Baptist Church in Pocatello, which had one of the state’s earliest significant Black communities. Jill Gill, a professor of American history at Boise State University, wrote the documentation for the project.

“I think it’s very important to tell the full story of Idahoans’ history and all its complexities and the different peoples that live in our state,” said Jason Tippeconnic Fox, an architectural historian with the state office. Fox said the agency is on the hunt for other sites that showcase Idaho’s Black history to nominate to the national register.

The Buckner house was technically already on the national register as a part of the Harrison Boulevard neighborhood, which has been listed since 1980.

“It’s this broad historic district with lots and lots of houses, but it never told some of those individual stories about people like the Buckners in that initial application,” said Sarah Martin, an independent consulting historian who has worked on this project.

Now the house is being recognized for its role in Idaho’s civil rights history and the events that occurred there.

“It’s not the house. It’s the significance of the house,” Buckner-Webb said. “It’s what went on in the building.”

Cross burning among events in Buckner house’s history

Buckner-Webb said she was in second or third grade when vandals burned a cross on her family’s front lawn.

“I was so young,” she said. “I didn’t understand the significance of it.”

To her parents, the message was clear: Some white Boiseans did not want them living in the effectively segregated Harrison Boulevard neighborhood and were trying to intimidate them into leaving.

The incident occurred in 1958, about a year after the family moved in — and Dorothy Buckner decided the family would display the burned cross rather than dispose of it.

“She said, ‘No, leave it on the front porch where they can see it,’” Buckner-Webb said. “She wanted them to be accountable and to know that it was not going to be a symbol that would run us off.”

The Buckners, who were the only Black family in the Harrison Boulevard neighborhood at the time, went nowhere after the cross burning. Buckner-Webb said neighbors rallied around her family.

Years later, when Buckner-Webb was serving in the Legislature, she said a man who had been on the police force at the time of the cross burning approached her. He told her that when the police identified the perpetrator, they “pretty much ran him out of town,” Buckner-Webb said.

Next steps in national register nomination process

The first step in the process of listing a property on the national register is to evaluate the site for significance and “historic integrity, which means that it reflects the period for which it’s significant,” said Fox, the architectural historian.

If the State Historic Preservation Office deems the property worthy, it begins writing the nomination. This process, which often involves outside consultants and extensive research, takes a little over a year, Fox said.

The nomination then goes before an Idaho review board made up of experts in history, architecture and archaeology. The panel gives feedback and votes on whether to approve the nomination.

The Buckner house’s nomination went before the review board on June 4 and was approved to advance to the final step of the process. The preservation office will send the nomination to the National Park Service, which governs the register, in the coming weeks, Fox said.

“Hopefully it will be listed in the national register in the early fall sometime, so we’re really excited about that,” Fox said.

Once the property is listed, not much will change for the current owners, who were “excited to learn about this aspect of their home’s history,” Fox said. Because the house was on the register as a part of Harrison Boulevard, there won’t be new restrictions on modifying the structure. The owners can choose whether to install a commemorative plaque at the site.

Buckner-Webb said she thinks listing the house on the national register is an important way to remember history — even the unpleasant parts — so that we are not doomed to repeat it.

She also said she’s proud that her mother, her childhood home and the work that went on there will be commemorated and honored.

“That house symbolizes so much for me,” Buckner-Webb said. “Our growth and development as a family, our growth and development as citizens and part of the community.”