Blog Post Brittany Ireland Feb 26, 2013

Three New Opportunities to Share Black History in Our National Parks

Black history and the African-American narrative comprise an essential chapter in our country’s shared heritage and culture. Nearly 30 of our country’s 398 national park sites directly honor prominent African Americans and share their stories.

Harriet Tubman for blog post

Harriet Tubman—a civil rights pioneer who risked her own life and freedom to free other enslaved Americans—was not honored with a national park last year, though Maryland will open a state park dedicated to her legacy later this year.

camera icon Library of Congress Photo

During Black History Month, NPCA is hopeful about new opportunities—including the three listed below—for Congress to advance the National Park Service’s goal to more authentically represent our shared heritage.

  1. Establishment of a long-awaited site to honor Civil Rights pioneer Harriet Tubman. American hero Harriet Tubman is among the most surprising leaders not currently honored in our national parks. Fortunately, the Senate reintroduced the Harriet Tubman National Historic Parks Act this month, which would create national park sites in Maryland and New York. As NPCA’s Legislative Representative Alan Spears said, “Harriet Tubman’s story is that of a true American icon, as she rose from a humble beginning, lived through degradation, and rose above to empower others to reach a better, brighter future.” Harriet Tubman served her country not only as a conductor on the Underground Railroad, but also as a nurse, scout, and spy. Through the expertise of National Park Service, an up-close history of the Underground Railroad could be shared, as well as Tubman’s often overlooked contributions to the war effort.
  2. Recognition of the heroic contributions of the Buffalo Soldiers. Honoring our country’s first National Park Rangers, the Buffalo Soldiers in the National Parks Study Act was recently reintroduced by House and Senate leaders. If passed, this legislation would authorize the Park Service to examine areas that were significant to African-American troops known as the Buffalo Soldiers in the late 1800s and early 1900. Many believe American Indians coined the term from the soldiers’ brown skin and thick curly hair, not unlike the buffalo. Others believe the strength of the buffalo inspired the name. What we know without question is that before the National Park Service, park care and administration was commissioned through the Army. Buffalo Soldiers played a historic and central role in protecting Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon National Parks, from their headquarters in the Presidio of San Francisco.
  3. Creation of Chicago’s first national park. We also await reintroduction of legislation in Chicago to study a potential Pullman National Historic Site in Chicago. The Pullman District was the first industrial planned community in the 1880s and recounts of the rise of the modern labor movement and the formation of the first African-American labor union. Unique stories of accomplishment make the Pullman district a perfect place for Chicago’s first national park site.
Pullman Porter

A sleeping car porter employed by the Pullman Company at Union Station in Chicago, Illinois.

camera icon Photographer Jack Delano, Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division

NPCA is proud to advocate on behalf of these important sites and work to preserve African-American history in our national parks. On Wednesday, February 27 from 3-4pm ET, NPCA will host its first Google+ Hangout: “The Legacy of Buffalo Soldiers and Our National Parks.” Famed Yosemite National Park Ranger Shelton Johnson and Colonel Charles Young biographer Brian Shellum will participate in the discussion, along with NPCA staff members Alan Spears and Amy Marquis. Join us for this discussion on the history of Buffalo Soldiers in our national parks and efforts currently underway to further diversify our National Park Service from the inside out.

UPDATE: You can watch a recording of NPCA’s Google Hangout here. Special thanks to Shelton Johnson, Brian Shellum, Alan Spears, Amy Marquis, and everyone who participated and sent questions for this informative and interesting discussion.