6 Powerful Places to Immerse Yourself in African American Heritage

February 1, 2017Travel Ideas
Natchez National Historical Park

African American contributions to the history and culture of the United States are vast and deeply interwoven in our collective national heritage. Many of our national parks preserve these stories and the places where they unfolded. Some parks tell them as part of the site’s broader chronicle while others were designated to specifically interpret the impact of the events that shaped our history at the site. Immerse yourself in these powerful national parks where African American heritage is preserved and honored. 

African Burial Ground National Monument

Beyond My Ken, Wikimedia Commons

The discovery of an African burial ground in lower Manhattan was a surprise to the workers who unearthed it in 1991 as they prepared to construct a federal office building. More shocking still was its scope: Hundreds of remains were found dating from the 1690s through 1794. It is estimated that at one time, as many as 15,000 African Americans — many of them slaves — were buried at this site.

Cane River Creole National Historical Park and Heritage Area

Sun low in the horizon peeping through branches of a large tree at the Oakland Plantation at Cane River Creole National Historical Park and Heritage Area
National Park Service

Louisiana's Cane River region is a unique place, shaped as much by the river itself as by the many cultures that have settled there. Cane River Creole National Historical Park and Heritage Area preserves the rich heritage of Creole people, a diverse group descended from Native Americans, enslaved Africans, and European settlers of all kinds. The park includes the Oakland and Magnolia plantations, both of which date back to the 18th century.

Natchez National Historical Park

Brick front of the William Johnson House Museum at Natchez National Historical Park
LongLiveRock, Wikimedia Commons

On the banks of the Mississippi River, Natchez National Historical Park preserves sites that reflect every era of American history. It includes the historic home of William Johnson, an African American who was freed from slavery in 1820 at the age of 11 and became a respected businessman before his murder in 1851. Johnson's diary was published in 1951, providing unique and detailed insight into African American life in the 19th century, and his house was opened by the National Park Service as a museum in 2005.

Nicodemus National Historic Site

The District No. 1 schoolhouse at Nicodemus National Historic Site stand alone in a field against a backdrop of a clear blue sky.
National Park Service

On the plains of Kansas, Nicodemus National Historic Site preserves the remnants of a town established by African Americans during the period of reconstruction following the Civil War. Kansas was seen as a "promised land" for formerly enslaved African Americans, many of whom headed west looking for a new life after the war. Nicodemus is the only remaining settlement of its kind west of the Mississippi River. 

Pullman National Monument

Side view of the large, brick, historic building at Pullman National Monument

Pullman National Monument became Chicago's first national park unit in 2015, thanks in large part to funding from the National Park Foundation. The monument recognizes and explores the history of the Chicago laborers of all races who worked for the Pullman Car Company during the late 1800s. In an era marred by segregation and poor working conditions, the Pullman Strike of 1894 changed the face of labor in America forever.

Yosemite National Park

Buffalo soldiers at Yosemite National Park
National Park Service

African American army regiments, formed after the Civil War and given the name Buffalo Soldiers by Plains Indians, were crucial to westward expansion during the late 19th century. What is not as widely known is that they were also among the first park rangers. In places like Yosemite National Park, Buffalo Soldiers were early stewards of our national parks, blazing trails and building structures that, in many cases, are still used today.

Across the country and throughout our history, the contributions made by African Americans have been a driving force behind American development and innovation. National parks proudly celebrate African American history throughout the year, and these six parks are just some of the places where you can learn about how African Americans helped shaped the United States. 

Comments

Well done, need more coverage. I am an outdoor enthusiast that includes camping and RV'ing. Our large organization will include the locations on tours when we visit these various cities. Please send me additional information.
Diane
Alexander
A wonderful, wonderful book about the Buffalo Soldiers is "Glory Land" by Sheldon Johnson. A must read!
Roberta
Bograd
Thanks for the info and I will look for the book. I am a 10th grade Bio Teacher in Philadelphia and I am always looking for a way to inspire my students and incidentally myself. (smile) thanks.
mary
coleman
Don't forget Arlington House, where the staff endeavors to portray the lives of the Custis and Lee families and the enslaved people as integrated and equally important parts of the history of the house.
Jeff
Chumley
Thank You! My new Bucket List Item! I will share the Article!
Julia
Philyaw Durand
Sequoia and General Grant National Parks was also protected for a few years by Buffalo Soldiers, and one of that park's early superintendents was Charles Young, the first black superintendent of a national park.
Bob
Roney
There is no american or world history without black people.
Tell the
Truth
Thanks to the National Park Foundation for sharing detailed and historical information on the various sites in America, which were shaped by enslaved Africans and African-Americans.
Junifer
Hall
thanks so much for this list. shared this on fb.
kevin
mcnamara
This is very helpful. Will save info and plan a couple of road trips for my family. Thanks so much
J.
Moses
Great information! Another must see is the Little Rock Central High National Historic Site, very powerful.
Russell
Carpenter
Great choices, but Fort Monroe National Monument in coastal Virginia deserves to be in the list. Early in the Civil War, three men escaped bondage and asked for sanctuary at the Union-controlled fort. The commander accepted them as contraband of war, and this rationale informed Congress's Confiscation Acts, the first legal step on the path to emancipation. Following the commander's decision, many other "Contrabands" escaped to the protection of the fort--10,000 by war's end--creating as historian Robert Engs said the first mass exodus to freedom. Ironically, enslaved people had been used to build the moated stone fortress, and their descendants who escaped to it called it "the freedom fort." Later in the war, African-American regiments were formed there, and Harriet Tubman was a nurse at the Contraband Hospital. Moreover, the fort's site--Point Comfort--was the place where the first captured Africans entered the English coastal colonies in 1619. So both the beginning and the beginning of the end of American slavery are associated with the site.
Scott
Butler
The African Meetinghouse (Boston African American National Historic Site and the Museum of African American History), built in 1806, is probably the oldest African American church building still standing in the US. Faneuil Hall (Boston National Historical Park and the city of Boston) was a vital space in struggles for freedom -- among others, Frederick Douglass spoke there at least 14 times! BOAF and BOST are units of the National Parks of Boston.
Merrill
Kohlhofer
I would like to add a name: Col Charles Young: https://www.nps.gov/seki/learn/historyculture/young.htm First superintendent of Sequoia National Park
Solomon
Hose
On April 4-8, 2018 NPS will commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King assassination at the Martin Luther King NHP in Atlanta, Ga. This historical park preserves, protects and interprets the life and legacy of Dr. martin Luther King Jr. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and our webpage at nps.gov/malu.
Judy
Forte

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