Minority Groups Climb aboard the US Preservation Movement the National Trust for Historic Preservation Widens Its Reach Series: The League of Women for Community Service Received a Grant to Restore This House, Once a Stop on the Underground Railroad, in Boston's South End., PHOTOS BY R. NORMAN MATHENY - STAFF

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`AMERICA was built by rich white families, right?" Byron Rushing asked. His eyes said "wrong." "That's what the historic-preservation movement tells us," the black state representative from Boston's South End told preservationists at a conference here last month.

But the story of America's past that is told only through restored homes of the rich and famous is a "lie," Representative Rushing said, calling upon preservationists to help tell "the whole story."

Mainstream preservationists acknowledge that they have a long way to go to incorporate wider racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity into their programs and projects. But diversity has become a major goal of the preservation movement, especially as represented by the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP), the nation's largest preservation organization.

In the past few years, the NTHP has built bridges to African-Americans interested in black history, culture, and community development, and at last month's conference NTHP President Richard Moe announced a new "partnership" with Keepers of the Treasures, an organization of American Indians, Alaska natives, and native Hawaiians. The NTHP has expanded the number of African- Americans on its board of trustees and advisory council, and this year a native American was named a trustee.

The NTHP has fewer contacts with the Hispanic and Asian American communities, but it hopes to reach out to them as well, trust officials say.

"We are trying to enlarge the preservation tent," says NTHP staff member Ben Handy. Mr. Handy, an African-American, coordinates a scholarship program that helps members of minority groups attend the trust's conferences.

More than 125 minority students and community activists received financial assistance to attend the recent Boston conference.

The scholarship program was created after the NTHP's 1991 gathering in San Francisco. At that meeting, which marked the 25th anniversary of the landmark National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the mainstream preservation movement took a hard look at itself, says Peter Brink, the trust's vice president for programs, information, and services. …