Profound Stories of Perseverance in National Parks

Emily KaminNPF Blog
Carter G. Woodson Home National Historic Site

August 2019 marks the 400th anniversary of the forced introduction of enslaved Africans to English-occupied North America. They landed at Point Comfort in Hampton, VA, now a part of Fort Monroe National Monument. This event set the next 400 years of African American history in motion: a history of struggle for emancipation, justice, and true racial equality, and of important contributions that have shaped our collective history.

Thanks to the continued support of our community, the National Park Foundation is helping to tell the story of African American heritage and culture at National Park System units across the country.

We’re also enhancing the visitor experience at these important sites by digitizing historical material and developing immersive interpretive experiences. These efforts will ensure future generations have access to centuries of African American history – from enslavement to emancipation to the civil rights movement, and beyond. These are just a few of the national parks that mark important moments in African American history the National Park Foundation has helped to preserve. 

Harriet Tubman National Historical Park 

Brick building of Harriet Tubman residence surrounded by the yellow leaves of fall foliage at Harriet Tubman National Historical Monument

Harriet Tubman Residence at Harriet Tubman National Historical Park

NPS Photo

Harriet Tubman led more than 300 enslaved people to freedom in the North via the Underground Railroad. In commemoration of her heroism, Congress established the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park in Auburn, New York in January 2017. The park includes a visitor center, the Tubman Home for the Aged, and the Harriet Tubman Residence. National Park Foundation funding supported the acquisition of the Thompson Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, an important part of Harriet Tubman’s spiritual life. The church is now incorporated into the 32-acre park, providing a glimpse into the adult life of the conductor of the Underground Railroad. 

Camp Nelson National Monument 

Historic black and white photo of vehicles and barracks at Camp Nelson National Monument

Historic photo of vehicles and barracks at Camp Nelson National Monument

NPS Photo

One of America’s newest national park units and Kentucky’s first national monument once served as a recruitment center, training ground, and hospital for Union soldiers during the Civil War. After the passage of the 13th Amendment and the end of slavery in Kentucky, 10,000 African American men traveled to Camp Nelson to become emancipated and enlist in the Union Army. 

A grant from the National Park Foundation to the American Battlefield Trust enabled the transfer of the 380-acre historic site to the National Park System, ensuring that the stories of these men are shared with park visitors for years to come.

Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument 

A large two-story house with several windows surrounded by green grass on a partly cloudy day, Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument

Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument

NPS Photo / Tom Engberg

Many African Americans served in the Civil War and after its end, several all-Black military regiments were consolidated and assigned to an unconventional role. Now known as the Buffalo Soldiers, these men served as the first protectors of the national parks. In 1903, Colonel Charles Young became the first African American superintendent of a national park while leading troopers at present-day Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks.  

In March 2013, President Barack Obama proclaimed 60 acres of land in Ohio the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument, which included the former home of Colonel Young. The National Park Foundation provided critical funding which ensured this land and the legacy of the Buffalo Soldiers would be permanently protected and incorporated into the National Park System. 

Carter G. Woodson Home National Historic Site 

Three-story yellow townhouse with green trim, Carter G. Woodson Home National Historic Site

Carter G. Woodson Home National Historic Site

NPS / Victoria Stauffenberg

Dr. Carter G. Woodson was one of the first scholars to study the lived experiences and history of African Americans. Thanks to him – known by many as the “Father of Black History” – the U.S. adopted Negro History Week, the precursor to Black History Month. In 1915, Dr. Woodson co-founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, Inc., now called the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). Dr. Woodson spent much of his professional life in Washington, D.C., and penned some of his greatest works from his rowhouse in the historic Shaw neighborhood.  

The National Park Service acquired this house in 2005 and in the years since, the National Park Foundation, National Park Service, and ASALH have partnered to rehabilitate the Carter G. Woodson Home National Historic Site and some of the surrounding buildings. The National Park Foundation also provides financial support for a project that will enable the site to more fully tell the story of Dr. Woodson, including designing and installing exhibits, and hiring personnel.

Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park 

Two-story yellow house with brown trim, Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park

Birthplace of Martin Luther King, Jr. at Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park

Shutterstock

One of the foremost figures in the American civil rights movement – Martin Luther King, Jr. – was born on the second floor of a house in Atlanta, Georgia, where he spent the next twelve years of his life living with his parents and extended family, and adopting the very principles he would come to preach: love, acceptance, justice, and equality. Years later, Dr. King settled into another home nearby with his wife, Coretta Scott King, and their four children.

The National Park Foundation helped transfer both properties to the National Park System so that they can be protected and made accessible to the public. These historic sites are now part of Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park and are the newest addition to a growing list of national parks that honor the stories of the civil rights movement. 

Freedom Riders National Monument 

Mural of a Greyhound bus at Freedom Riders National Monument

Mural at Freedom Riders National Monument

WikiMedia / Ser Amantio di Nicolao

In 1961, an interracial group of 13 individuals committed to publicly opposing America’s racist Jim Crow laws, which stipulated separate public accommodations by race, especially on buses and in bus stations. While traveling the country protesting these discriminatory laws, the "Freedom Riders" faced many violent attacks from white supremacists who wished to uphold racial segregation, including harassment, assault, and the arson of their bus in Anniston, Alabama. 

The nearby Greyhound bus station, as well as the site of the firebombing, are now preserved as part of the Freedom Riders National Monument. A grant from National Park Foundation helped to acquire a nearby building which will serve as the site’s visitor center. 

The National Park Service honors and preserves the places where the 400-years-worth of stories of perseverance unfolded. Embark on your own #FindYourPark / #EncuentraTuParque journey by attending an event or activity at your local national park and immerse yourself in the many National Park Service sites that honor and preserve African American heritage.


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