National Parks Associated with African Americans: An Ethnographic Perspective


National Parks Associated with African Americans: An Ethnographic Perspective provides an interactive map linked to many of the national park sites and resources that emphasize the integral role that African Americans played in the development of American culture, heritage, and history. As you navigate through the map, you will find descriptions of how a park is important to African American communities, links to the parks, and other related links.

The Applied Ethnography Program is concerned with living communities and the resources that are important to these groups. The program's role in the National Park Service includes providing information about groups who "assign significance to places closely linked with their own sense of purpose, existence as a community, and development as ethnically distinctive peoples" (NPS-28, Ch. 10). Individual national parks play critical roles in shaping the lives of contemporary Americans. These include parks dedicated to the prominent abolitionist Frederick Douglass, the civil rights advocate Mary McLeod Bethune, and sites commemorating landmark events in the struggle for 20th century civil rights, such as the 1907 meeting of the Niagara Movement.

Beside connections through famous people and historic events, African American communities are connected to parklands in other ways. For instance, parks such as New Bedford Whaling National Historic Site or Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site were once associated with occupational groups of African American whalers and ironworkers respectively. Other parks, like Cane River National Historical Park, were formerly plantations that were first reliant on slave labor, later on sharecroppers and tenant farmers. Associations may still exist with local residents of African American communities and such parks due to past work relationships. Other African Americans who have moved away from an area may still value plantation parklands as sites where their forefathers lived and labored. Locations of former freedmen towns and sites on the Underground Railroad are part of other parks associated with African Americans today. As well, many forts, battlefields, cemeteries, and war memorials may have significance to modern African Americans because of the African American soldiers who manned, fought, rested, or are commemorated at these sites.

To achieve the goals of the NPS, it is important to reveal the connections that today's African Americans have with the national parks. This is especially true where this association does not seem to be the primary focus of the park or where African American participation in the events that the park commemorates has been historically overlooked, under-represented, or misinterpreted.

To assist in this discovery process, NPS ethnographers use various research approaches to learn more about peoples associated with the parks today. Their work is also used by park planners, managers, and interpreters to manage, preserve, and interpret park cultural resources. Understanding the relationships between present day peoples and the resources that the NPS is mandated to preserve will provide "for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations" by showing the contemporary relevance of the national parks to all Americans, including African Americans.