Celebrating African American Heritage in the National Parks

This February, visit the homes of Harriet Tubman and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and learn about other seminal figures in black history, including the Pullman Porters, the Tuskegee Airmen and the Freedom Riders.

The Edmund Pettus Bridge, part of the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail
Petersburg National Battlefield (above). This February, visit the homes of Harriet Tubman and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and learn about other seminal figures in black history, including the Pullman Porters, the Tuskegee Airmen and the Freedom Riders. (Courtesy of the National Parks Service)

This page was published 7 years ago. Find the latest on Earthjustice’s work.

The National Park Service protects and maintains many African American heritage sites around the country to honor the significant contributions African Americans have made to the nation. To help celebrate Black History Month this February, explore a few of the more than 25 historical sites, from Little Rock, Arkansas, to the U.S. Virgin Islands.  

  1. Credited with establishing Negro History Week (forerunner to Black History Month) in 1926, Dr. Carter G. Woodson spent most of his life gathering an accurate written history of the African experience in America, and his home was the headquarters for the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. Today, the Dr. Carter G. Woodson Home National Historic Site in Washington, D.C., serves as testament to his efforts to inform the public on the role of African Americans in history.
  2. The Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve in Florida is one of the last unspoiled coastal wetlands on the Atlantic coast. It also tells the story of 6,000 years of human history in the area. In the 18th and 19th century, the site was home to the Kingsley Plantation, where visitors can learn about the enslaved people who were forcibly brought to America and worked to provide wealth to the people who owned them.
  3. Petersburg National Battlefield in Virginia recognizes the U.S. Colored Troops who fought during the Siege of Petersburg. During the Civil War, a total of nearly 187,000 African Americans served in the Union army. In December 1864, all the USCTs around Petersburg were incorporated into the XXV Corps of the Army of the James. It was the largest black force assembled during the war and included 16,000 men at its peak. Overall, in fighting associated with the Petersburg Campaign, USCTs would participate in six major engagements and earn 15 Medals of Honor. Through their unwavering courage, these troops helped Gen. Ulysses S. Grant cut off Petersburg’s supply line and sealed the fate of the Confederacy.
  4. The Harriet Tubman National Historical Park commemorates the work and later years of Harriet Tubman, the fearless Underground Railroad conductor and active proponent of women’s suffrage and other causes. The park is located at the site where Tubman lived and worshiped in Auburn, New York, caring for family members and other formerly enslaved people seeking safe haven in the North. The historic church and rectory and other structures are largely intact from the time Harriet Tubman lived and worked in Auburn. They provide a strong physical basis for telling the story of Tubman’s years following the Civil War when she was active in the women’s suffrage movement, in the A.M.E. Zion Church and in the establishment of a home for elderly, indigent African Americans.
  5. The George Washington Carver National Monument in Missouri is the birthplace and childhood home of the famed scientist, educator and humanitarian. Established in 1943, it is the first site in the national park system to be dedicated to an African American. The monument is home to the Carver Trail, which connects the historic Carver House, the cemetery where the Carver family is buried and 140 acres of restored tallgrass prairie.
  6. Part of the Boston African American National Historic Site, the African Meeting House served as the religious, cultural and political center of the free black community in antebellum Boston. Church services, classes and celebrations were held here. It is part of the Black Heritage Trail—14 sites that tell the story of the African American community in Boston. The remarkable people of this community were leaders in the Abolition Movement, the Underground Railroad and the early struggle for equal rights and education.
  7. In the 1870s, freed slaves left Kentucky in organized colonies to experience freedom in the “promised land” of Kansas. Nicodemus National Historic Site highlights the involvement of African Americans in the westward expansion and settlement of the Great Plains. One of the oldest and only remaining black settlements west of the Mississippi River, Nicodemus contains five historic buildings representing the collective strength and desire for freedom of early African American pioneers
  8. The Reconstruction Era began during the Civil War and lasted until the dawn of Jim Crow racial segregation in the 1890s. It remains one of the most complicated and poorly understood periods in American history. During Reconstruction, four million African Americans, newly freed from bondage, sought to integrate themselves into free society, into the educational, economic and political life of the country. This began in late 1861 in Beaufort County, South Carolina, after Union forces won the Battle at Port Royal Sound and brought the ‘Lowcountry’ along the South Carolina coast under Union control. More than 10,000 slaves remained there when their owners fled the cotton and rice plantations. The then-Lincoln administration decided to initiate the ‘Port Royal Experiment’ in Beaufort County to help the former slaves become self-sufficient. Reconstruction Era National Monument includes Darrah Hall on St. Helena Island—one of the country’s first schools for freed slaves.
  9. Growing up in the time of segregation, Martin Luther King Jr. was moved by destiny to become a leader in the Civil Rights movement. At the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta, Georgia, you can learn about his story, visit the home of his birth and hear his voice in the church where he moved hearts and minds.
  10. Before the first African American military combat pilots could escort bombers over Germany during World War II, they first needed to pass their flight training. At Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site in Alabama, you can relive their flying adventure and see where the “Red Tails” developed their skills to go on and become one of the most revered fighter groups in American history.
  11. The Pullman National Monument shares the story of an experiment for equal economic opportunity for all. Founded on utopian ideas, the town of Pullman, Illinois, provided workers with a safe community, a better standard of living and an environment free of limitations by race, gender or economic status. These egalitarian values aided in the formation of the first legally recognized African American labor union. 
  12. Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Jelly Roll Morton and Charles “Buddy” Bolden all got their start in what is today, New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park in Louisiana. Visitors walk in the footsteps and stand in the concert halls where some of our country’s most cherished musicians performed. Locations within the Park Service’s jurisdiction include Canal Street, Lafayette Square and Storyville. Today, visitors can attend a jazz concert or ranger performance at the new performance venue in the Old U.S. Mint.
  13. The Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site in Arkansas is a powerful reminder of the turbulent struggle over school desegregation. In 1957, nine African American students fought to attend the all-white high school and became a prominent test case for the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision. Today, Central High School is preserved and interpreted by the National Park Service and provides a historically accurate window into a critical moment of the Civil Rights movement.
  14. On Mother’s Day 1961, a Freedom Riders bus was attacked at the Greyhound Bus Station in Anniston, Alabama, and was attacked again and burned just six miles out of town on Route 202. The Freedom Riders were a group of civil rights activists, both African American and Caucasian, who tested integration laws on the interstate bus system. The incident in Anniston was quickly reported in newspapers and shown on television screens across the country, shocking the nation and inspiring more people to join the fight against the injustices of Jim Crow laws in the American South.&nbspFreedom Riders National Monument includes the former Greyhound Bus Station in Anniston and the bus burning site in Calhoun County.
  15. On March 7, 1965, approximately 600 non-violent protesters in Selma, Alabama, departed from Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church with the intent of marching 54 miles to Montgomery to demonstrate for voter’s rights and against police brutality. As they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, they were attacked by state troopers and volunteer officers of the local sheriff’s department. The attack caused outrage around the country and became known as “Bloody Sunday.” Two days later, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led a second march which again had its path blocked by law enforcement officers. This time they decided to turn back and not risk a violent confrontation. 

    After a struggle in the courts, the protesters received an injunction for a third march. On March 21st, the official Selma to Montgomery March began with the final number of supporters reaching near 25,000. Five months later, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in voting practices or procedures because of race and color. Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail includes an interpretive center and informational sites along the 54 mile route.

This blog post originally appeared on doi.gov.