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Interested In African American History? There’s A National Park For That.

Nature’s beauty tells wonderful tales, and much of that beauty is protected by our national parks. The people and places that helped shape our country also have stories to tell, and increasingly these stories are being protected by our National Park System. In honor of African American History Month, these parks can teach you something about some of our most important – and often overlooked – stories of African American history.

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African Burial Ground National Monument - New York

National Park Service / Via nps.gov

The African Burial Ground National Monument is the first National Monument dedicated to Africans of early New York and Americans of African descent. Long forgotten by most of the world, the African Burial Ground came to light in 1991 when during construction for a federal building, workers found human burials.

For most of the Colonial era, the African Burial Ground was the only cemetery for some 15,000 Africans and African descendants. The African Burial Ground became a National Historic Landmark in 1993 and was set aside as a unit of the National Park System by Presidential proclamation on February 27, 2006. It is the newest national monument in New York City, joining the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and Castle Clinton National Monuments.

Boston African American National Historic Site - Massachusetts

National Park Service / Via nps.gov

Be sure to see the African Meeting House and the Abiel Smith School, which was the first school for black children prior to desegregation of Boston's schools in 1855. The Meeting House is now the nation's oldest standing black church structure and was a hub for Boston's black community for nearly 100 years. These sites are also right near Boston's Freedom Trail. Bring your walking shoes and your thirst for knowledge!

Fort Monroe National Monument - Virginia

Waggss / Via Wikimedia Commons

Three enslaved men escaped the Confederate Army in 1861 and fled to Fort Monroe. Becoming an unofficial haven for the nearly 10,000 African Americans who followed in their search for freedom, Fort Monroe quickly earned the nickname "Freedom's Fortress." Visit today to explore a site of liberation while enjoying the beautiful Chesapeake landscape.

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park - West Virginia

National Park Service

Two rivers meet where history collides. Abolitionist John Brown's raid on the Federal arsenal in October 1859 put Harpers Ferry on the map, and it remained an important strategic stronghold during the Civil War. In 1906, W.E.B. Dubois' Niagara Movement met at Harpers Ferry to demand "full manhood suffrage" for blacks and an end to segregation and lynching. Such action forever linked the town to the birth of the modern civil rights movement.

Harriet Tubman National Historical Parks - Maryland & New York

Via Library of Congress

Nurse, spy, conductor on the Underground Railroad: there isn't much Harriet Tubman couldn't – or didn't – do. Tubman escaped enslavement via Maryland's Eastern Shore in 1848, returning to the south on multiple occasions over the next decade to liberate family and friends still in bondage.

After the Civil War, Harriet moved to Auburn, New York to advocate for women's suffrage, operating the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged the remainder of her life. The Harriet Tubman park sites commemorate the legacy of this beloved American icon and increases our understanding of the role women have played in our nation's history.

Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument - Ohio

Nyttend / Via Wikimedia Commons

Despite being born into slavery, Charles Young became just the third African American to graduate from West Point in the 19th century. He served honorably in the U.S. Army and rose to the rank of colonel. In the summer of 1903, Captain Young served as acting superintendent of Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park, the first African American to hold such a post. He led the 9th Cavalry troopers known as Buffalo Soldiers – some of our first national park guardians. In 1894, upon joining Wilberforce University to teach military tactics, Young purchased the property that stands at the heart of this national monument.

Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site - Alabama

Darwinek / Via Wikimedia Commons

In March 1945, Roscoe "Bunnie" Brown became one of the first U.S. Army Air Corps pilots to shoot down the new German ME-262 jet-fighter. This accomplishment was especially significant because he was a Tuskegee Airman, one of more than a thousand black pilots who served in racially segregated squadrons during World War II. Moton Field, where the Tuskegee Airmen took primary flight training, forms the heart of the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site.

Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial - California

National Park Service

In 1944, an on-ship explosion at the Port Chicago Naval Magazine killed 320 sailors, marking World War II's worst home-front disaster. After the tragedy, African American sailors protested the unsafe working conditions for crews loading munitions onto ships docked at Port Chicago. The Navy filed charges of mutiny, and the subsequent legal case drew national and international attention, leading to the Navy's creation of integrated work crews. Unexpectedly, these work crews functioned well and served as a catalyst for President Truman's 1948 decision to desegregate U.S. armed forces. Located on a military base, plan a visit and take a guided tour of the memorial. You'll have the chance to learn more about a less-discussed but important beginning to the push for civil rights.

New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park - Louisiana

National Park Service

With daily concerts and monthly music festivals, you might hear this park before you even reach it! Listen to some classic New Orleans jazz before you go, then groove your way into the visitor's center to learn more about the origins of jazz and the musicians, ranging from Louie Armstrong to Jelly Roll Morton, who helped shape an American musical tradition.

Not near any of these sites? Visit ourparksourstories.org for more stories and a map to help you experience African American history in our national parks.

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