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Celebrate African American History Month

February is African American History Month, and in 2011 the whole world joins us in celebrating an International Year for People of African Descent.

Archeology tells us more about the historic contributions of African Americans to the nation—both as individuals and as groups—at places and through objects. Experiences of slavery, freedom, uplift, and political and intellectual involvement are integral to the American story. Learn more by exploring NPS parks across the nation, either in person on online.

Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve includes Kingsley Plantation, which has the remains of 32 cabins made from tabby, an oyster shell-based construction material. Visit the park website or read a preliminary report from the 2006 archeological field season, which includes descriptions of artifacts related to spiritual beliefs and domestic activities in the cabins.

Monocacy National Battlefield encompasses land that once made up L'Hermitage, a late-18th and early-19th-century plantation. Its owners, the Vincendières, brought 12 enslaved persons with them from Saint-Domingue (now called Haiti). By 1800, the plantation housed about 90 enslaved people. Archeologists are excavating to understand more about their lives in the village where they lived.

Virgin Islands National Park includes archeological sites and historic structures associated with sugar plantations and other agricultural pursuits. The enslavement of Africans provided the labor to support large-scale operations. Find out about where people lived and worked, such as at the Annaberg Plantation. Read the archeologists' blog.

  • Excavations within a slave cabin at Kingsley Plantation.
  • Chela Thomas works on preserving artifacts at Virgin Islands National Park.

Although African slavery represents a difficult part of America's past, African American History Month also shines light on achievements and struggles for freedom. National parks and National Historic Landmarks preserve archeological places associated with important advancements in African American life.

During the Civil War, many African Americans enlisted to fight. Archeology provides insight into activities and the experiences of place during critical moments in America's history.

The Appomattox Court House (now a national historical park) witnessed African Americans who were enslaved, enlisted as Union or Confederate troops, or accompanied officers and regiments. Archeologists found evidence associated with all these groups.

At Shiloh National Military Park, archeologists recovered the remains of an African American soldier, then reinterred him. He may have been one of the infantrymen of the United States Colored Troops battalion organized in Corinth, Georgia.

Fort Smith (now a national historic site) hosted a federal court as well as barracks and support buildings. A United States Colored Troops soldier used a stencil found archeologically at Fort Smith to mark his belongings.

The Robinson family of Virginia made their home on what is now Manassas National Battlefield Park, living there as free people before, during, and after the Civil War.

  • Black Troops serving Federal forces during the Appomattox Campaign.
  • Thin metal stencil with small cut-out letters and numbers reading 'R.T. 57th Co.'

Even under the worst of circumstances, African Americans created towns with economies, infrastructure, and services that drew on people and resources. Such places established communities that supported uplift and progress in American life.

New Philadelphia is a National Historic Landmark that was the first town platted and registered by an African American before the American Civil War. Free blacks and whites in the town lived—but were not buried— side by side. Archeological investigations revealed the layout of the town.

Nicodemus (now a national historic site) was settled by free blacks escaping the south after Reconstruction. Archeology at a nearby homestead demonstrated the connections between family and land that helped African Americans find independence.

The neighborhood surrounding the Monroe Elementary School at Brown v. Board of Education, is now a national historic site where archeology has taken place. Archeologists recovered information about everyday life, such as consumer choices, among national currents. See the Teaching with Historic Places lesson plan for more.

  • Nicodemus homesteaders pose in front of farmhouse (LOC photo)
  • Third and fourth graders, Monroe School, Topeka, Kansas, November 28, 1892. (Kansas Collection, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.)

Many more places of African American heritage are commemorated by listing in the National Register of Historic Places. There are many places you can visit to learn more about the archeology of African Americans and about National Parks associated with African Americans. Explore the distance learning course on African American Heritage and celebrate archeology and history in the Southeast. Find further information through these important links for African American archeology.