Preserving American History & Culture

Rebecca WatsonNPF Blog
Facade of the Birth Home at Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park, a yellow two-story home with green and brown trim. A handful of steps lead to a covered porch.
Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park - NPF Photo / Katie Bricker Photography

From the villages of Northern Plains Indians and the location of the “shot heard around the world" to the home of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and a memorial to the passengers and crew of Flight 93, our national parks preserve some of the most significant places and items in American history. The National Park System offers a unique lens through which to view and understand American history and culture and the National Park Foundation (NPF), together with our partners, works to highlight and protect the sites and stories that shape our past, present and future through our support of history and culture projects in our parks.

These programs increase access to the places, cultural resources, and stories that help all people gain a deeper understanding of our national parks as a common ground and shared inheritance. With this work, NPF and our partners aim to share a more comprehensive and inclusive stories that amplify the full range of experience and voices that are woven into the fabric of the United States. Join us in exploring just some of the work NPF and our partners have supported to safeguard the historic sites and collections that hold our shared history.

African American Experience Fund

Open engine of blue plane with two yellow wings

Engine of a PT-17 Biplane at Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site

NPS Photo / Aaliyah Jones

Established in 2001, NPF’s African American Experience Fund (AAEF) seeks to connect all Americans to the role of African Americans in our country’s history. Through AAEF, NPF has contributed to significant milestones, including the 2013 establishment of Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument and, in partnership with the Fund II Foundation, the 2020 repair and restoration of the Thompson Memorial AME Church at Harriet Tubman National Historical Park

AAEF also supports projects that further storytelling in parks, such as the development, design, fabrication, and installation of new exhibitions at Carter G. Woodson Home National Historic Site in 2020, the development of a new exhibit exploring the life and contributions of Coretta Scott King in Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park as part of NPF’s Women in Parks initiative, and the 2020 creation of a Discovery Lab classroom at Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site to inspire the next generation of aerospace engineers. Building on 20 years of work, AAEF continues to invest in the preservation of African American history and culture in our national parks.

Historic Restoration & Preservation

The exterior of the plantation house at Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial

Exterior of the plantation house at Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial

NPS Photo / LM

NPF’s work in historic restoration and preservation provides vital funding to projects that preserve and restore treasured places within the National Park System, ensuring they are accessible and inviting for generations to come. By supporting the rehabilitation of historic sites, NPF and our partners are helping the National Park Service (NPS) share more comprehensive and inclusive stories through our national parks.

Back in 1968, NPF allocated a series of grants to restore Theodore Roosevelt’s birthplace in New York, as well as his Long Island home, now Sagamore Hill National Historic Site. This work continues to today, supporting projects such as rehabilitation efforts at Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument, preservation of items in the library at Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, and the development of a new visitor experience at Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial.

Latino Heritage Fund

Sunrise onto Mission San Jose Church at the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

Mission San José, part of San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

NPS Photo

Established in 2011, NPF’s Latino Heritage Fund seeks to preserve Latino history and elevate Latino stories and contributions, past and present, to the U.S. through our national parks. With the support of our partners and donors, LHF projects work in collaboration with NPS to preserve and share stories that commemorate Hispanic heritage in parks and communities across the country. In 2013, the Latino Heritage Fund sponsored NPS' theme study: American Latinos and the Making of the United States, featuring essays by nationally recognized scholars. Due in part to the theme study’s research, 11 Latino history sites have been designated as new National Historic Landmarks.

The Latino Heritage Fund also helped establish César E. Chávez National Monument, commemorating the home and final resting place of César E. Chávez, as well as supported its first year of operations. In 2020, the Latino Heritage Fund, in collaboration with NPS, Mission Heritage Partners, and American YouthWork's Texas Conservation Corps, launched the Cultural Landscape Apprentices program, which matches Hispanic and Latino young adults with opportunities to learn about cultural landscape management at San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. Building on a decade of work, NPF’s Latino Heritage Fund continues to identify innovative ways to engage current and future park visitors, increase relevancy and access, and build a culture that values diverse ideas and embraces the meaningful participation of all.

NPS Mellon Humanities Fellowships

The brick Boott Cotton Mills Museum next to the canal at Lowell National Historical Park

Boott Cotton Mills Museum at Lowell National Historical Park

NPS Photo / Andrew Donovan

Thanks to the generous funding of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the NPS Mellon Humanities Fellowships program supports humanities fellowships for postdoc academics to help enhance and expand storytelling in national parks. Supporting national parks with scholarship related to labor history and productivity, the legacy of the civil rights movement, gender and sexuality equality, and monuments and memory, each fellow brings fresh expertise in the public humanities field to parks across the country.

Working alongside NPS staff, fellows help create interpretive and educational resources based on their research, including visitor center exhibitions, lesson plans, audience-centered dialogues, campaigns, digital projects, and more. Fellows have also been able to offer trainings and online seminars to NPS staff nationwide to help enhance, expand, and deepen the stories told in national parks.

Preserving Our Diverse History

The Huna Tribal House, decorated with colorful illustrations, glows in a golden light, nestled among towering green trees

Huna Tribal House at Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve

NPS Photo / K. Boomer

From purchasing and donating historic landmarks and the restoration of historic sites to supporting new park operations and developing new exhibitions and interpretative materials, NPF's work in preserving our diverse cultural history helps protect and preserve a more comprehensive collection of American stories to be explored and enjoyed by current and future generations. Leveraging innovative partnerships and collaborations, this work ensures that these treasured places are preserved and accessible to the public.

NPF has supported newly designated parks in their first years of operations, including Pullman National Monument and César E. Chávez National Monument. NPF and our partners have also facilitated the acquisition and donation of property such as the home of Medgar and Myrlie Evers, now Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Monument, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birth home, now part of Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park. In 2020, with support from NPF and The Conservation Fund, Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve added a 150-acre cultural site that will be managed in collaboration with the Hoonah Indian Association and provide opportunities for tribal members to engage in traditional cultural practices. Additionally, NPF's Flight 93 National Memorial campaign raised over $40 million in private support to establish, design, and construct the park, as well as establish the park’s official charitable partner organization. 

Women in Parks

late evening, red brick porch with Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site sign, hedges in front

Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site

NPS Photo / Maggie L. Walker NHS

National parks across the country share stories of visionary women, trailblazers who dared to imagine a different future. It is critical that we recognize centuries of unrecognized and underrecognized sacrifices and contributions to the U.S. made by women, including Black women, Indigenous women, and all women of color. NPF's Women in Parks initiative supports projects and programs that help NPS amplify the voices of women who made history and continue to share our future.

In 2020, NPF announced 23 inaugural Women in Parks grant recipients, supporting a range of projects that highlight the contributions women have made to our country and the role they continue to play in our ever-evolving narrative. From supporting NPS internships to uncover and illuminate women's stories to recording oral histories from Northern Arapaho women at Cache la Poudre River National Heritage Area, these grants will help unearth, preserve, and highlight women’s stories tied to national parks. Additionally, Women in Parks grants support opportunities for women to get involved in our parks today, including today, including all-women service corps crews, and a year-long Women in Bluegrass Music Festival along Blue Ridge Parkway.

NPF’s support of the preservation of American history and culture is helping to highlight and protect the places and stories that reflect our past, engage the present, and imagine the future. Through dynamic educational programs, professional development opportunities, rehabilitation of historic sites, and the preservation of artifacts and places, NPF and our partners remain committed to supporting NPS in all its efforts to tell a more expansive history of our nation through our national parks. Donate to the National Park Foundation today to help support programs and projects such as these – together we have a powerful impact on our parks.

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Parks tell the ever-evolving story of who we are – our heritage and our history, in its struggles and triumphs. NPF is committed to making sure all of our national parks thrive, because national parks don’t just stand for where America has been – they inspire where we go next.

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