Afro-Americans are gaining recognition for the contributions of their race to American society. It has been a facet of the long upward struggle Afro-Americans have waged to win freedom, equality and respect. Some years ago, the National Park System recognized the achievements of outstanding Afro-Americans.
Today there are six Park System units and two Affiliated Areas that honor the careers of Afro-American men and women. And the National Park System is responsible for the program under which 115 National Historic Landmarks have been designated that commemorate Afro-American history.
The following objectives will be covered in this unit:
a. Give a brief history on the National Park System.
b. Give a biographical sketch of each Famous Afro-American.
c. Appreciate the value of taking field trips to National Parks, National Monuments, and National Historic sites.
d. Teach map skills as it relates to the geographical locations of each region.
e. Give reasons as to why some Afro-Americans have been recognized by the national park System and others haven’t.
f. Give the functions of the National Park System.
Students will use the library to find historical information about each Afro-American. Encyclopedia, autobiographies, biographies, and any other resources available in the school library will be used to complete their research. They can use magazines, articles from newspapers, and oral histories from video tapes and slide presentations.
After the students do the research they will be required to write biographical sketches about each Afro-American mentioned in the unit. The locations of each National Park, National Historic Site, and National Monument will be identified through the use of US maps and atlases. After discussions and presentations are made students will take a field trip to the park of their choice.
1. Students will do research to find information about each National Park dedicated to Afro-Americans.
2. Students will write biographical sketches about each Afro-American recognized by the National Park System.
3. Students will use United States maps to locate and identify the states and cities each historical site, park or monument is located.
4. Students will learn more about the National Park System as they read the books chosen for this unit in the library.
5. Students will take a field trip to the National Park of their choice.
National Parks are spacious land and water areas of nation-wide interest established as sanctuaries for the permanent preservation of scenery, wilderness, and native fauna and flora in their natural condition. National Parks are composed of wilderness essentially in a primeval condition, of areas of scenic magnificence, and of wide varieties of features. Their unexcelled quality and unique inspirational beauty distinguish them from all other areas, and make imperative their protection, through an Act of Congress, for the enjoyment of humans and the education and inspiration for all time. (Bolin, 1962)
The National Park System of the United States, now in the early years of its second century, comprises 354 areas covering almost 80 million acres covering 47 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, Salvo, and the Virgin Islands. These areas are of such national significance as to justify special recognition and protection in accordance with various acts of Congress.
By the Act of March 1, 1872, Congress established Yellowstone National Park in the territories of Montana and Wyoming “as a public park or pleasure ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people” and placed it “under exclusive control for the Secretary of the Interior.” The founding of Yellowstone National Park began a worldwide national park movement. Today more than 100 nations contain some 1,200 national parks or equivalent preserve.
In the years following the establishment of Yellowstone, the United States authorized additional national parks and monuments, most of them carved from the federal lands of the West. There, also were administered by the Department of the Interior, while other monuments and natural historical areas were administered as separate units by the War Department and the Forest Service of the Department of Agriculture. No single agency provided unified management of the varied federal parklands.
In an Act signed on August 25, 1916, Congress established in the Department of the Interior the National Park Service to provide cohesive administration of such areas under the Department’s jurisdiction. The Act says: “The service thus established shall promote and regulate the use of the Federal areas known as national parks, monuments and reservations . . . .by such means and measures as conform to the fundamental purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”
An Executive Order in 1933 transferred 63 national monuments and military sites from the Forest Service. This action was a major step in the development of today’s truly national system of parks-a-system that includes areas of historical as well as scenic and scientific importance.
Congress declared in the General Authorities Act of 1970 “that the National Park System, which began with the establishment of Yellowstone National Park in 1872, has since grown to include superlative natural, historic, and recreation areas in every region . . . and that it is the purpose of this Act to include all such areas in the system . . . ”
Additions to the National Park System are now generally made through acts of Congress, and national parks can be created only through such acts. But the Presidents have the authority, under the Antiquities Act of 1906, to proclaim national monuments on lands already under federal jurisdiction. The Secretary of the Interior is usually asked by the Congress for his recommendations on proposed additions to the System. The Secretary is counseled by the National Park System Advisory Board, composed of private citizens, which advise him on possible additions to the System and policies for its management. (The national Parks Index 1989)
The following pages include information about each Afro-American for which a National park, National Landmark, or National Historic Site is named:
1943: The George Washington Carver National Monument
In 1943 the George Washington Carver National Monument was erected. This was the birthplace of George Washington Carver and the place where he spent his boyhood. He was a noted agronomist. The site is located near the little town of Diamond, in the south-western corner of Missouri.
The first recorded document relating to Carver is a bill of sale for his mother, Mary, when she was about thirteen. Late in the 1930s, when Moses Carver and his wife settled on 240 acres near Diamond, Mary became part of that household. George was the second of her many children, but his birthdate is not recorded
Following the Civil War, the border between Missouri and Kansas was plagued by outlaws preying on the residents. A raiding party took of value from the Carver farm, including Mary and George. A tracker was hired found the baby George, who had been abandoned. However, the Carvers never saw Mary again.
George recovered his health on the farm, doing light chores, and he had time to spend outdoors, getting acquainted with the wonders of nature and collecting. Encouraged to learn, he left the farm when he became a teenager to attend a school a few miles away. At that time, he took the Carver name and added Washington. He attended three more schools to finish high school, supporting himself by performing domestic chores—cooking, laundering and various other odd jobs.
George was very smart, he learned typing and shorthand in a business school. Then after many disappointments and a try at farming that turned out badly, a couple who recognized his talent helped him enter art school. Excellent in his studies, he transferred to Iowa Agricultural College, which today is known as the University of Ames. He received both his B.S. and M.S. degrees there, and just before completing his work, he received an offer from Booker T. Washington to become an instructor at Tuskegee Institute.
There Carver found that years of using unwise farming methods had depleted Alabama soil, and that dependence upon cotton had subjected farmers to the whims of unstable market. He issued bulletins, published by the institute and distributed free, encouraging farmers to adopt such practices as crop rotation and use of natural fertilizers. He put together an extension service and took new varieties of plants from experimental farm out to nearby communities.
Although he worked with many crops, Carver became most famous for the peanut, for which he invented some three-hundred uses and by-products.
He taught and worked at Tuskegee for more than forty years and won an impressive number of honors. He died on January 5, 1943.
The national monument site stretches over two hundred and ten acres of land. It includes the birthplace cabin site, a statue of the boy Carver, the relocated Moses Carver dwelling and the family cemetery. Beginning at the visitor center, a self-guiding trail winds along the stream and through fields and woods that Carver walked as a boy.
1956: Booker T. Washington National Monument
This National Monument preserves the birthplace and early childhood home of a little boy, born to a slave-cook, who became a celebrated educator. This particular site is located in Franklin County, Va., not far from Roanoke.
Listed with other property, simply as “Booker,” the boy was freed at the end of the Civil War when he was nine years old. Then he joined his stepfather in West Virginia, where Booker worked as a coal miner for about seven years. The mine owner’s wife took Booker in as a houseboy. She was very strict but encouraged Booker in his ambition to become educated.
In 1872, he made his way to Hampton Institute in central Virginia, a school for ex-slaves, where, working under great hardship, he was graduated with honors in three years. The Hampton Principal, General Samuel C. Armstrong, then recommended Booker to take charge of a proposed Negro School in Alabama. The school was Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute. The State provided $2,000 for faculty but nothing for buildings, land or equipment. Started with thirty students in a shack and an old dilapidated church, the institute prospered as Washington became well known and attracted financial support.
Guided by his experience at Hampton, Washington set three objectives for Tuskegee. The first was to prepare educators to return to the plantation districts to show “how to put new energy and new ideas into farming as well as into the intellectual and moral and religious life of people.” His second objective was to develop craft and occupational so that students could get jobs in agriculture and trades. A third goal was to make education at Tuskegee “total,” that is, to train the students in all their activities to maintain high moral character, orderliness and cleanliness. Under his leadership, Tuskegee grew to 1500 students with an endowment of more than $2 million.
Washington had three wives (the first two died young) and he fathered a daughter and two sons. He died at the Oaks, the family home in 1915, a distinguished American citizen, an honored educator and an advisor to presidents. His third wife, Margaret, died there ten years later.
On the 223-acre monument grounds are many sites of the tobacco farm on which Washington grew up. One may follow the “Plantation Trail” through it, seeing farm animals at pasture, restored cabins and other buildings, and places where stood some of the structures Washington knew. This was the early environment that shaped the character of one who rose from slavery to become a celebrated citizen.
“The great and prevailing idea that seemed to take possession of everyone was to prepare himself to lift up the people at his home.”
—Booker T. Washington
1962: Frederick Douglass National Historic Site
The Frederick Douglass home is located in Washington, D.C. It is the last residence of the runaway slave who—self-educated—became a noted abolitionist, speaker and writer.
Born some 40 years before Carver and Washington, he faced different issues that shaped his life’s activities. He demanded an end to slavery and urged political equality for all men and women.
He was born in Talbot County on the Eastern Shore of Maryland in 1817 or 1818, child of a slave woman and an unknown white man. His relatives and Douglass himself suffered at length under harsh and sadistic overseers. But hired out as a carpenter to a shipbuilder in Baltimore, he met many free blacks, among them Anna Murray. Three years later, he escaped to Baltimore to freedom in the North, married Anna, and settled in Massachusetts. To avoid slave trackers, he changed his name from Bailey to Douglas, a character in Walter Scott’s “Lady of the Lake.”
Becoming friendly with William Loyd Garrison and other abolitionists, he lectured throughout New York and New England.
He spoke and wrote with an original, vigorous style, and on the platform was described as “poised, eloquent, and witty.” He spoke for women having the vote at the time when men favoring that were ridiculed as “hen-pecked husbands . . . who ought to wear petticoats.” After the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, he published “Men of Color to Arms,” urging free blacks to volunteer for the U.S. Army.
In 1872 he moved to Washington and purchased a home on Capitol Hill, a building now part of the Museum of African Art. Five years later he broke a “white only” covenant to buy his last home, Cedar Hill. After the death of Anna Murray, he married a white woman, Helen Pitts. He served as U.S. Marshall for the District of Columbia and consul-general to Haiti. He died at Cedar Hill February 20, 1895.
Frederick Douglass Home is a lovely victorian house on the heights overlooking Anacostia with a view of the U.S. Capitol. Douglas needed peace and quiet to do his work and Cedar Hill afforded two suitable places: a library inside and a small, one-room structure apart from it that he called the “Growley”. This had a large fireplace, a desk filled with papers and books and a leather couch where he could lie down to think or rest. The Growley was reconstructed in 1981.
His second wife, Helen, preserved Cedar Hill as a memorial. In 1900 she organized the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association, which joined forces in 1916 with the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs to open the house to visitors. They administered the site until it was added to the Park System in 1962. Many visitors today enjoy tours of the home.
1974: Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site
Tuskegee Institute lies near the community of Tuskegee in the southeastern part of Alabama between Montgomery and Columbus, Georgia. Here both Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver did the work that made them famous.
As Washington saw it, the motivation behind Tuskegee should be to take realistic measures to improve the lot of blacks. “The opportunity to earn a dollar in a factory just now,” he said, “is worth infinitely more than the opportunity to spend a dollar in an opera house.” This meant training his people to become industrial employees, tradesmen and farmers.
In his drive to teach practical skills, train teachers and make the school a “civilizing influence,” Washington seized opportunities to use the institution for his training purposes. Buildings were needed so students made and laid bricks. The agricultural products produced were used to feed the needy among them. And by doing such chores they earned amounts toward tuition.
George Washington Carver left the Iowa faculty to head a new Department of Agriculture at Tuskegee. He worked there for 47 years. His development of numerous uses for southern agricultural products brought fame to the institute and won him a reputation as an outstanding American scientist.
Tuskegee prospered because its leader won widespread support, North and South, partly by preparing students to do useful work in a society which increasingly segregated itself and disenfranchised black citizens. Begun in the simplest of circumstances, the institute became respected by those with influence and wealth, and buildings were named after some of these, including Carnegies and Rockefellers.
To some blacks and their supporters, the curriculum at Tuskegee seemed likely to keep them in a subordinate role. They urged more emphasis on higher education. And under Washington’s successor, Robert Russa Moton, the institute moved into a new era, establishing a College Department with a degree-grariting program.
Portions of the national historic site are owned by the United States, but most of the acreage is owned still by Tuskegee Institute. Numerous buildings constructed while Booker T. Washington lived still exist, many built of the bricks made by students.
In 1938, the institution honored Dr. Carver by establishing a museum for him. Here are displayed his paintings and needlework as well as vegetable specimens and samples of products derived from peanuts, sweet potatoes and many other items.
The historic campus district includes more than 25 structures. The Oaks, the Washington family home was built in 1899. Grey columns, a pre-war mansion that stands nearby, serves as park headquarters. A walking tour of the historic campus is available.
1978: Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site
The Maggie L. Walker Historic site preserves the Richmond, Virginia, home of the civic leader and pioneer woman banker. She was born in Richmond in 1867, the daughter of an ex-slave and northern abolitionist author.
She was educated in Richmond public and normal schools and continued her studies at Virginia Union University. She later served as a trustee of Virginia Union and other educational institutions. She taught school between 1833 and 1886 when she married Armstead Walker, son of a building contractor. A knee injury kept Mrs. Walker confined to a wheelchair in the later years of her life.
An early member of an organization called the Independent Order of St. Luke. She progressed through the ranks to become executive secretary. The order maintained various business interests, and in 1903 Mrs. Walker directed the establishment of the Saint Luke Penny Savings Bank. She is the first woman in the United States known to head a bank.
Mrs. Walker gained national recognition for her efforts on behalf of blacks. She was founder and president of the Richmond Council of Colored Women, which raised thousands of dollars to assist the Virginia Industrial School for Colored Girls. She also helped raise funds for a black tuberculosis sanatorium in Burkeville, Va., and while serving on the boards of civic and educational institutions supported establishment of a black community center and programs to improve health care.
The Maggie L. Walker house is a two-story brick residence of 18 rooms, described as of “Victorian-Italianate” style. It is located in a 19th century residential neighborhood of mainly row houses. The surrounding area—Jackson Ward—is a historic district.
The house contains original items from the period of Walker occupancy including furniture, decorations, momentoes, correspondence and family photos. These items are being used to restore the home to its appearance during the years around 1927.
1980: Martin Luther King, National Historic Site
The King National Historic Site in Atlanta honors the Nation’s best known black leader. The site includes the home where the civil rights champion was born, the family church, Ebenezer Baptist Church, and the surrounding area.
A related preservation district contains a portion of the neighborhood where Dr. King lived as a child. The combined Park System unit comprises some 300 structures, and it is hoped that economic revitalization of the formerly prosperous Sweet Auburn commercial effort.
The name “Sweet Auburn” was given to the street because blacks—denied access to the business districts and community services used by Atlanta’s white people—developed here the black business center of the Southeast.
Martin Luther King, Jr., was born in 1929 at 501 Auburn Avenue. His grandfather and father both served as pastors of Ebenezer Baptist Church. Growing up in the highly stable community gave Martin a strong series of what blacks could accomplish and helped from his opinions on civil rights. Martin lived there until 1941, when the family moved a short distance away, and in 1948 he left Atlanta to pursue his studies.
In 1954, Martin became nationally known as the leader of the bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala., and in 1960 he moved back to Atlanta as co-pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church. The Headquarters of the Southern Leadership Conference, which he led, was on Auburn Avenue. King gained international recognition when he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. In the year of 1968, Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis. After that came the funeral at his church, and burial in the Freedom Hall Complex, adjacent to the church.
The National Park’s Service is planning to renovate possibly twenty-seven homes along Auburn Avenue. Presently, about a third of the houses are vacant, and some are being rented. Those that are owned will not be purchased, but easements will be sought so the park Service can monitor changes and improvements made to them. The National Park Service also plans to buy some buildings and a large lot to be used for parking. The plan also includes purchasing Dr. King’s birthplace which was restored two years ago.
“The nonviolent approach does something to the hearts and souls of those committed to it. It gives them new self respect. (And) it so stirs the conscience of the opponent that reconciliation becomes a reality.”
—Martin L. King, Jr.
1980: Boston African National Historic Site
The most impressive part of this tour is the African Meeting House. The Institute took a field trip to this particular site and I’ll never forget how my emotions were continuously aroused. I not only felt a sense of pride but also spiritually attuned to the hardships that had been suffered by the ancestors. This place that I’d never been to before as I walked around a calmness and total peacefulness was with me.
The African meeting house was completed in 1806. It is an award-winning National Historic Site located in what once was the heart of Boston’s 19th-century African-American community, this elegant building remains a showcase of black community organization, and enduring testimony to black craftsmanship. Major historic restoration work was completed in 1987, returning the Meeting House to its appearance in the 1850s when it underwent extensive remodeling. Once a church, a school, a vital community meeting place, the African Meeting House is again open to the public. This historic building holds a capacity of about three hundred people in the main sanctuary and the gallery or reception area about one-hundred fifty people standing and possibly eighty seated. The Reception area is wheelchair accessible and includes many other useful details.