National Parks Associated with African Americans: An Ethnographic Perspective

The Northeast & National Capital Region

Click on the map to explore national parks associated with African Americans.

  1. 1 | 

    Anacostia Park, DC

    Located in the Anacostia Historic District, a neighborhood currently estimated at 99% African American, this park offers opportunities for gardening and other cultural activities described in the Rapid Ethnographic Assessment for the park.

  2. 2 | 

    Antietam National Battlefield, MD

    Twenty-three thousand men were killed or wounded during this Civil War battle, including African American soldiers. Five days after the battle, on September 22, 1862, Lincoln made a preliminary announcement leading up to the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. African Americans across the country celebrated this date as Emancipation Day for many years. Freedom At Antietam describes the events leading from the Battle of Antietam to the Emancipation Proclamation.

    Union forces, which included African Americans, are buried in the Antietam National Cemetery in mainly anonymous graves. In a far corner, African American graves from WWI are segregated.

  3. 3 | 

    Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial, VA

    Arlington House was an antebellum plantation owned by the Custis and Lee families where a large number of slaves labored, including Selina Gray. After the war, part of the plantation served as a Freedmen's Village. Today there is an exhibit in the former slave quarters about the African American communities at the estate. This exhibit is discussed in a 2002 CRM magazine article, "We Have a Claim on This Estate."

  4. 4 | 

    Booker T. Washington National Monument, VA

    This site was the birthplace and early childhood home of Booker T. Washington, an African American 19th- and 20th-century leader, educator, and founder of Tuskegee Institute. Washington was born a slave on this plantation in the Blue Ridge Mountains where his mother was the cook and where he lived in the slave quarters until 1865. The Ethnographic Overview and Assessment for the park examines slavery and race at the park. The NPS Museum Management Program has created an online exhibit about Booker T. Washington, the Tuskegee Airmen, and George Washington Carver. In an article from CRM magazine, a park interpreter discusses the issues surrounding interpretation and public education at the site.

  5. 5 | 

    Boston African American National Historic Site, MA

    Fifteen pre-Civil War sites related to the African American community on Beacon Hill during the 19th century compose this site. Beacon Hill was home to notable free African American activists, such as the Haydens and William C. Nell, who worked for the abolition of slavery and civil rights for free African Americans. The African Meeting House, which was the first African American church in the United States and the site where the American Anti-Slavery Society was founded, is a part of this park. Another site is the memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the African American Massachusetts 54th Regiment. The Black Heritage Trail® connects the 15 sites and provides a virtual tour.

  6. 6 | 

    Catoctin Mountain Park, MD

    Freed and runaway African Americans and slaves were sought to work in the Catoctin Iron Works. African American Influence in the Iron Industry describes the rise and decline of this workforce at Catoctin.

  7. 7 | 

    Colonial National Historical Park, VA

    This park encompasses most of Jamestown, site of the first permanent English settlement of 1607. Africans were brought to North America in 1619 as indentured servants. They landed in Hampton or Jamestown, an act symbolic for contemporary African Americans. Over the next 100 years, the status of African Americans at Jamestown slowly changed from indentured servants to slaves and finally hereditary slaves for life following the condition of the mother.

    Yorktown is the other main site at Colonial National Historic Park. At the siege of Yorktown in 1781, the all-African American First Rhode Island Regiment helped secure a victory for the United States.

  8. 8 | 

    Fire Island National Seashore, NY

    African American slaves, some of whom are buried in a cemetery on site, worked the William Floyd Estate. It is also reported that ships bringing slaves to supply inland plantations passed through the Fire Island Inlet and that slaves were kept in wooden enclosures on the beach before being sold.

  9. 9 | 

    Fort Dupont Park, DC

    Fort Dupont, originally one of the Washington Civil War Defenses, currently is the site for celebration of many African American cultural traditions. Activities that take place in the park include community gardening that preserves traditional southern foods, family reunions, and musical performances of jazz and go-go, a local style. The only African American ice hockey team is based in this park as well. These and more activities are described in the Rapid Ethnographic Assessment.

  10. 10 | 

    Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, DC

    From 1877 to 1895, this was the home of Frederick Douglass, a leading 19th-century African American spokesperson for abolition and civil rights for African Americans and women. He lectured extensively on his experiences as a slave in Maryland; authored two pre-Civil War autobiographies; founded and edited The North Star, a newspaper published in Rochester; and became U.S. minister to Haiti in 1899. Having followed the Underground Railroad to freedom, he later became a conductor and leader in this movement. In the 1950s and 1960s, the African American community used the site for picnics, weddings, and other social functions. Today, the park is located in a predominantly African American neighborhood, the Anacostia Historic District, although it was a neighborhood restricted to whites when Douglass purchased the property in 1877.

  11. 11 | 

    Gateway Nation Recreation Area, NJ, NY

    The Jamaica Bay/Breezy Point Unit is significant for African American gardeners, fishermen, women, religious groups, and others who use the park as a place of recreation. At the beginning of the 20th century, a community of 1,500, including 300 African Americans, dwelled in the area that is now Floyd Bennett Field. This place can also be considered an ethnographic resource because of its importance to the Black Pilots Association of New York and other African American groups.

  12. 12 | 

    General Grant National Memorial, NY

    African Americans reside in the community and use the park for cultural and recreational activities. African Americans from throughout New York City and surrounding areas use the site for cultural events such as the Jazz Mobile and Harlem Week.

  13. 13 | 

    George Washington Birthplace National Monument, VA

    This unit is the site of the homes of George Washington, his family, and the enslaved African Americans who provided the labor to operate and maintain the estate. Descendants of West Ford, one of George Washington's slaves and the son of a slave woman named Venus, have recently claimed that George Washington was also Ford's father. Ford, who founded Gum Springs, a community of freed slaves and runaways in Fairfax County, Virginia, is buried close to George Washington at Mount Vernon.

  14. 14 | 

    Hampton National Historic Site, MD

    Over 200 enslaved African Americans maintained Hampton Mansion during the 19th century. Interpreting Slavery at Hampton NHS is an article from CRM magazine about historical research and interpretation at this site. The park also has information on Chattel Slavery at Hampton/Northampton.

  15. 15 | 

    Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, WV

    The famous raid in 1859 by abolitionist John Brown took place here. The Federal Armory at Harpers Ferry provided an economy and jobs that attracted a large population of free African Americans before the Civil War. The town was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

    The park includes the site of Storer College, one of the earliest colleges for African Americans in the United States. It was established in 1867 by the Freedman's Bureau. The second meeting of the Niagara movement, led by W.E. B. DuBois, was held at Storer College. The Niagara movement was the forerunner of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Frederick Douglass spoke about John Brown and liberty at the 14th anniversary of the college in 1881.

  16. 16 | 

    Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, PA

    Enslaved, fugitive, and free African Americans at Hopewell Furnace played an important role in the iron industry. Before 1780, when slavery was abolished in Pennsylvania, the owner of Hopewell Furnace was the largest slaveholder in Berks County and probably depended upon slave labor to build and maintain the furnace. During the gradual emancipation that began in 1780, African Americans were employed as indentured and apprenticed workers.

    The area attracted runaway slaves because of the opportunities in the iron industry and the prominence of the Underground Railroad. The growing African American population founded the Six Penny Colored Church in 1856 about three miles north of the Furnace. This church was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Its cemetery contains the graves of many African Americans who worked at Hopewell Furnace. A women's group from the current church at this site maintains the cemetery today.

  17. 17 | 

    Independence National Historic Park, PA

    African Americans contributed to the history of this park and continue to reside in neighboring areas. There are many buildings in the areas surrounding the park that are associated with African Americans including churches, businesses, and homes. An example is Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church, established in 1792. The forerunner of many independent African American churches in the Northern states, this church was an important spiritual as well as social and political center for African Americans. Park staff also have written an article, African American History at Independence NHP, for CRM magazine about interpretation at the park.

  18. 18 | 

    Korean War Memorial, DC

    A group of statues of infantry soldiers in front of a granite wall bearing images of support personnel commemorates the dead of the Korean War, including the estimated 5,000 African American losses. 600,000 African Americans served in the military during this conflict. The 50th Anniversary of the Korean War was celebrated from June 25, 2000 until November 11, 2003. For this event the Department of Defense produced a Fact Sheet: The Beginnings of a New Era for African Americans in the Armed Forces that discusses the Korean War as a turning point for the role of African Americans in the military.

  19. 19 | 

    Lincoln Memorial, DC

    The Lincoln Memorial has been a site of resistance and civil rights activism since the 1939 Easter Sunday concert by Marian Anderson. The Daughters of the American Revolution had prevented Ms. Anderson from performing in Constitution Hall. Eleanor Roosevelt, the president's wife, arranged for the performance to be moved to the steps of this memorial. This began the use of the monument as a symbol of the civil rights movement. The 1963 March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King gave his "I have a dream…" speech was the best known and most significant civil rights gathering. In 1995, the steps were the site of the Million Man March. This memorial is one of the stops on the National Register of Historic Places' travel itinerary We Shall Overcome.

  20. 20 | 

    Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site, VA

    This unit is the former home of Maggie L. Walker, an African American woman who achieved national prominence as a businesswoman and community leader. The site is located in historic Jackson Ward, long associated with a powerful 19th-century African American institution, the Order of St. Luke. Walker served as the leader of the Independent Order of St. Luke from 1899 until her death in 1934. Through the Order she established a newspaper, the St. Luke Herald, opened a department store, and founded a bank, the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank. All of these enterprises primarily hired women since Mrs. Walker was an advocate of women's rights, equal employment opportunity, and self-sufficiency. Walker served as the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank's first president, which earned her recognition as the first female bank president in the United States. After a merger with two other banks, the Penny Savings Bank still thrives today as the Consolidated Bank and Trust Company, the oldest African American operated bank in the United States. Its headquarters are still located in Jackson Ward.

  21. 21 | 

    Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site, DC

    This was the Washington residence of the 20th-century educator, civil rights activist, and federal official. Mrs. Bethune founded Bethune-Cookman College in Florida and was appointed by President Roosevelt to his "Black Cabinet", a group of African American advisors. In 1935, Bethune founded the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW). The site currently houses the National Archive for Black Women's History. Bethune House is also a site on the National Register of Historic Places travel itinerary for Washington, DC.

  22. 22 | 

    Manassas National Battlefield Park, VA

    Although two important Civil War battles took place here, the land now encapsulated by the park was also home to many people affected by those battles and that war. Archeology has uncovered clues to the lives of enslaved African Americans at the middling plantations of Portici and Brownsville and of free African Americans at the Robinson House. The Robinson House, the Nash Site, and the Davis family occupation at the Sudley Post Office site all provide important insights into the struggles and achievements of life after the war, through Reconstruction, and into the Jim Crow era. The Robinson family and other descendant families currently have strong ties to the park. Some have shared their memories, stories, hand-drawn maps, and other oral traditions concerning their family histories and homesteads.

  23. 23 | 

    New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park, MA

    New Bedford was a destination point for runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad because of access to the trade network and the fact that the maritime industry was traditionally welcoming to African Americans. The Faces of Whaling Oral History Project is an ethnographic study that includes a description of an interview with one of the descendants of African Americans who worked in the whaling industry. It is estimated that from 300 to 700 fugitives lived in New Bedford between the mid-1840s and 1860, comprising a large proportion of the African American population. Fugitive Slave Traffic and the Maritime World of New Bedford is a historical study of African Americans in this community. Near the park are properties associated with Nathan and Mary Johnson, free African Americans who were active in the abolition movement and assisted fugitives.

  24. 24 | 

    New River Gorge National River, WV

    This unit encompasses a fifty-mile segment of the New River and its gorge in southern West Virginia. African Americans migrated to this area from the south in the early 1870s beginning with the building of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad. When the New River coal fields opened after 1873, even more African American migrants came from surrounding states and from as far south as Georgia and South Carolina. By 1910, the highest concentration of African Americans in West Virginia lived in the Kaymoor Mining District, an area once located in the New River unit. Although mine owners often tried to use African American workers to counter unionization of the mines, other factors including the equal treatment of African Americans by the United Mine Workers of America and controlled competition policies of the mine operators led to interracial solidarity in mine towns.

  25. 25 | 

    Prince William Forest Park, VA

    Four African American communities, Baskerville, Batestown, Smoketown, and Minnieville (Napisco), were displaced between 1935 and 1939 for the creation of the Chopawamsic Recreational Development Area. Some of these communities developed from free African American communities that formed after the Civil War. In 1942 and 1943, families who had remained in the area were relocated in order to expand Quantico Marine Corps Base. Today, the structures associated with these communities have been destroyed. Forty two cemeteries survive along with other ethnographic resources such as remains of mining tunnels. A baptismal site illustrates the importance of the church for these communities.

  26. 26 | 

    Richmond National Battlefield Park, VA

    The histories of the battles around Richmond, Virginia, 1862-65, contain multiple events and circumstances relevant to African American history. One clarion event is the Battle of New Market Heights, 8 miles from Richmond, where 14 African Americans of the United States Colored Troops received the Medal of Honor for their valor. This was an especially significant event in American history given that only 16 Army Medals of Honor were awarded to black soldiers during the entire Civil War.

    The Battle of Chaffin's Farm was the North's most successful effort to break General Robert E. Lee's defensive lines north of the James River. The attack at New Market Heights forever established the fighting spirit of the African American soldier. For the next 6 months the two armies held fast to their opposite positions near Richmond. On April 2, 1865, the Confederate government evacuated its capital city. The following day, the Army of the James, including hundreds of USCTs, proudly entered Richmond. On April 4, just days before his assassination, President Lincoln visited the City of Richmond to the amazement and applause of the black population.

  27. 27 | 

    Rock Creek Park, DC

    In the mid- to late 1800s, there was an African American community in the area of the Old Stone House in Georgetown called Herring Hill. In the late 1930s and early 1940s many Herring Hill residents sold their homes to white buyers. Today several African American churches still maintain services in Georgetown including the oldest African American congregation in Washington, DC, the Mt. Zion United Methodist Church, established in 1816. Other significant sites located nearby include former schools, residences, and businesses of African Americans. The Black Georgetown Tour is a self-guided tour with online directions and background information for the historic sites in Georgetown that are significant for African Americans.

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    Valley Forge National Historical Park, VA

    Approximately 5,000 African Americans served in the Revolutionary War. In 1993, the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, an African American women's service organization, erected the Patriots of African Descent Memorial Marker commemorating the role of the African American soldiers at Valley Forge.

  29. 29 | 

    Vietnam Veterans Memorial, DC

    The wall commemorates all the dead of the Vietnam War, including African Americans. 16,500 African Americans served in the Army, 3,500 in the Marines, 908 in the Air Force, and 500 in the Navy. A disproportionate number of African Americans served as combat troops and died in service. From 1960 to 1966, African Americans accounted for 10% of military forces but 20% of combat-related deaths. The Vietnam Women's Memorial depicts an African American woman, representing one of the thousands of women who served in the war.

  30. 30 | 

    Women's Rights National Historical Park, NY

    This site commemorates women's struggle for equal rights including the right to vote. Many suffrage advocates were also abolitionists. For example, Sojourner Truth was associated with both movements and was present in 1848 at the first Women's Rights Convention in the Wesleyan Chapel also located in this Seneca Falls site. UGRR Connections with the First Women's Rights Convention provides information about the relationship between the women's rights and anti-slavery movements.