Are national parks relevant to African Americans? A new guidebook from Eastern National answers that question with a definitive "YES!," as it traces their ties to the parks.
Released to coincide with the dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C., the 68-page Guidebook To African American History in the National Parks ($7.95) traces African American history in the parks from Adams National Historical Park to The National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.
Carrying an introduction written by National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis, and with content developed with the assistance of Park Service historians and interpreters, the softcover book does not attempt to be exhaustive in its approach to this integral aspect of U.S. history.
Indeed, each unit of the National Park System with African American ties of some sort gets just one page of text with some accompanying photos. But the text provides intriguing insights and, hopefully, will encourage readers to explore further on their own.
For instance, how many immediately associate John Adams, the country's second president, with slaves? But, as the guidebook points out, when he drafted the constitution for the state of Massachusetts Mr. Adams included the phrase that "all men are born free and equal."
His wife, Abigal Adams, "successfully fought for the right of her black servant's son to attend the local school," the text also notes.
At Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas, the guidebook notes, "When Jim Crow laws were enacted after Reconstruction ended, African Americans were permitted to work in the bathhouses on Bathhouse Row at Hot Springs Reservation, now a national park. However, they were not permitted to patronize them."
There's even a page on the Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, which runs along the Atlantic coast from North Carolina south to Florida. "It is home to one of America's unique cultures, a tradition first shaped by captive Africans brought to the southern United States from West Africa and continued in later generations by their descendants."
Read on and you'll learn how the Gullah/Geechee people maintained their language, arts and crafts, and traditions down through the years.
Interspersed among these individual stories are somewhat longer features on such topics as the Buffalo Soldiers, segregation of the Civilian Conservation Corps, and African American soldiers in the Civil War.
"The parks and monuments contained here represent the legacy of the African American experience," Director Jarvis notes in his introduction. "Their role in telling this story is so prominent -- so powerful -- that they have been included among those places that we preserve for all time."