Our national parks reflect our struggles and victories as Americans so we can learn from the past and build a better future.
Recently we have all been alarmed by tragic incidents of gun violence and acts of discrimination in our communities. As we come together as a nation to work toward justice, national parks can provide important places for healing and historic perspective.
National parks are some of our country’s most celebrated landscapes — places where many of us find beauty and refuge. In times of despair, we can find a sense of humanity in our national parks. They are places where we can learn about our shared past and find personal solace and spiritual renewal. Parks have the power to help us see “the arc of the moral universe,” as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, as it “bends toward justice.” Americans have suffered and fought injustice throughout history. National parks allow us to put ourselves in other people’s shoes to remember the past as interpreted for us by our nation’s best storytellers, park rangers.
We can travel to Selma where civil rights marchers experienced brutality in their fight for racial justice, or the high school in Little Rock, Arkansas, where nine brave African-American children endured violence and humiliation to earn an education next to their white peers. We can learn about the fight for women’s suffrage at the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument. And we can travel to Stonewall in New York City where people fought against routine harassment more than 40 years ago to start an uprising that earned national attention and led to important victories against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender discrimination.
Hundreds of sites within our National Park System offer us lessons about tolerance and understanding, from the story of slavery at Civil War battlefields to the forced imprisonment of more than 120,000 Japanese-Americans at nearly a dozen incarceration camps during World War II, including Manzanar and Minidoka. Every spring for the last 11 years, Muslim students have joined a pilgrimage with survivors of Manzanar to learn about their experiences and find support in their own fight against wrongful discrimination, forced incarceration and cultural vilification.
We can and should continue to absorb the lessons from history that teach us about our common humanity and the importance of treating all people with respect. As NPCA works to protect and enhance these treasured sites across the country, diversity and inclusion are key tenets in the core values that drive our mission. NPCA is committed to preserving these places for our children and grandchildren so they can use these lessons to help build a better future — something all of us can agree is worth fighting for.
About the author
Theresa Pierno President and CEO
Theresa Pierno is President and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association. She joined NPCA in 2004 after a distinguished career in public service and natural resource protection, and has helped to solidify the organization's role as the voice of America's national parks.