Monthly Theme: Commemorating 400 Years of African American History

USCT Artillery Reeanctor
During the Civil War, more than 200,000 African Americans served in the US Army to fight for an end to slavery. Within five years of the war's end, slavery was abolished and black men had the legal right to vote under the 15th Amendment.

NPS

The first enslaved Africans in English-occupied North America were brought to Virginia more than 400 years ago. Despite constant adversity throughout American history, African American culture and heritage strengthened each generation.

In 2019 and 2020, the National Park Service is commemorating a significant moment in American history: the landing of the first enslaved Africans in English-occupied North America and 400 years of African American history that followed. While this was not the first instance of African enslavement in North America (see, for example, Coronado National Memorial’s story of Esteban de Dorantes, an enslaved member of the Coronado Expedition), it marked the origin of what would become the institutional system of chattel slavery in the English colonies and the United States.

As the nation recognizes the achievements, contributions, and historical journeys of African Americans, we can highlight the history and cultural heritage shared within our parks and in communities through the work of our programs and partners.

cover image of the 19th century publication Harpers Weekly showing African American men lined up to vote
A drawing by Alfred R. Waud on the cover of an 1867 edition of Harper's Weekly showing African American men lined up to vote. (Library of Congress)

This year marks two significant anniversaries impacting voting rights for African Americans. In 1870, 150 years ago, the 15th Amendment was ratified: “The right of citizens...to vote shall not be denied or abridged...on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” 2020 is also the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment securing women’s right to vote. With these momentous anniversaries in mind, the 2020 theme for African American History Month is “African Americans and the Vote,” exploring 150 years (and more) of the struggle to ensure that African Americans are able to fully participate in American democracy. The theme is set each year by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), an NPS partner.

There are many ways that parks and partners can explore this theme. Here are just a few suggestions:

  • NPS parks, programs, and partnerships can share the stories of the struggle before and after the passing of the 15th and 19th Amendments about the right for African Americans to vote legally and in practice.

  • Combine themes this month by telling the stories of African American innovators and engineers for National Innovation Day and National Engineers Week (see “More Themes & Activities” below).

  • Showcase objects or artifacts in your museum collection important to the African American experience.

  • Highlight the work that staff do in telling the story and sharing the experience of African American heritage or ask them to share how African American history inspired them in their work.
  • Create and/or share lesson plans related to African American history.
  • Plan an itinerary that visitors can use to learn about African American history within parks or communities.

  • Highlight National Register or National Historic Landmark sites related to African American history.

Featured NPS.gov Webpages

In February, the National Park Service will feature websites and webpages that tell parts of the African American experience:

Social Media

The National Park Service, National Park Foundation, and all our partners are encouraged to use #FindYourPark or #EncuentraTuParque hashtags on park- and NPS program-related social media posts to continue to inspire everyone to find their personal connections to national parks.

The hashtag #400Years can be used all year by NPS, partnerships, and visitors to share African American heritage as part of a national commemoration through August 2020.

More February Themes & Activities

Every month, the National Park Service celebrates different national holidays and initiatives that provide opportunities to share our mission through websites, social media, and other platforms. Find information on a related topic on NPS.gov, hashtags that national parks are using, and other messaging tools to use on these special days.

MORE MONTHLY THEMES

Last updated: January 27, 2020