Buffalo Soldiers in Yosemite National Park, 1899.
Yosemite Research Library
Black History Month is a time to remember and honor the many groups and individuals who contributed to the success and achievements of this country as well as to advancement for African Americans as a people.
These historical spots host incredible evidence of the achievements, struggles and lives of African Americans during the history of the continent. The monuments also testify to the role of our National Park Service and other land agencies in preserving important pieces of our nation's story and cultural heritage.
1. Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site, Georgia
At least 4 national park units and memorials are associated with the life of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but the one that explores King's early life and the forces that shaped him is the Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site in Georgia. The site preserves multiple places of interest that honor King's life and message. Among them are King's childhood home, the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church where both King and his father were pastors, the "I Have a Dream" world Peace Rose Garden, and the final resting place of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Corretta Scott King.
2. African American Civil War Memorial, Washington, D.C.
The Civil War is commemorated with scores of monuments and historic battlefields, but the African American Civil War Memorial shines a light on a somewhat neglected chapter of that bloody conflict: The contributions of the regiments then called “United States Colored Troops,” who made up a significant chunk of Union forces by the end of the war. The memorial, a granite plaza highlighted by statuary and a wall of honored names, has been called one of the best Washington DC museums not on the National Mall, a fitting tribute to the nearly 210,00 African Americans who served.
Photo: Tim Sackton
3. Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument, Maryland
The Harriet Tubman monument was designated by President Barack Obama in 2013. This place celebrates the great abolitionist and woman known as “Moses of her People." As the most well-known conductor on the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman lead almost 70 enslaved people to their freedom. Tubman’s spirit resonates here in the land, water and sky - talismans that she once used for navigation and sanctuary. At the monument, visitors will see lands that Tubman would have recognized and can learn about Underground Railroad history and Tubman's life.
Image: National Park Service
Neighboring Tubman’s monument on Maryland's Eastern Shore is Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. Now a bird sanctuary, this land was once worked by Harriet Tubman when she was a farm slave and timber laborer. It was here that she learned vital outdoor skills while navigating Blackwater’s Stewart's Canal, which was dug for commercial transportation between 1810 and 1832 by enslaved and free people.
Image: National Park Service
4. African Burial Ground National Monument, New York
Image by All-Nite Images, flickr
In 1991, what began as construction in lower Manhattan became one of the most important recent archaeological finds: a graveyard containing the remains of about 15,000 free and enslaved Africans buried in the late 17th century. Today a wall of remembrance honors those who once used this place to maintain and celebrate their ancestral heritage.
5. Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks, California
Colonel Charles Young served as the first African-American Superintendent at Sequoia National Park in 1903. He led about 500 “buffalo soldiers” to have a lasting impact on some of the most cherished lands in America. They completed the first usable road and the first trail to the top of Mt. Whitney in Sequoia, and built an arboretum in Yosemite. In addition to fighting forest fires, they also acted as police, monitoring wildlife poaching, illegal grazing, theft of natural resources and firearm regulations.
Image: Library of Congress via National Park Service.
6. Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument, Ohio
In addition to leading buffalo soldiers to protect and enhance Sequoia and Yosemite, Charles Young was the third African American to graduate from West Point Military Academy and the highest ranking African American officer at the onset of World War I, making him a notable pioneer. His Ohio house, called Youngsholm, served as his home while he taught at a nearby University. It was once used as a stop on the Underground Railroad and hosted Paul Laurence Dunbar, W.E.B Du Bois and other African-American leaders. The family home of Charles Young is one of a handful of national monuments designated in 2013. As of 2016, the monument allows visitors on select days while the home is being developed for regular visitation.
Image: Former Interior Sec. Ken Salazar joins National Park staff upon the opening of the Buffalo Soldier National Monument in 2013, via Interior Department, flickr.
7. Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
The first guides at Mammoth Cave were African American slaves - remarkable men who were vital to the development of tours in the 18th and early 20th centuries. Legends like Stephen Bishop, Mat Bransford, Nick Bransford, Ed Bishop, Ed Hawkins, Will Garvin and Matt Bransford made noteworthy contributions to this unique place, but they were not considered important during their difficult lifetimes. Today these men are credited with having huge importance to the beginnings of cave exploration at Mammoth.
Image: Matt Bransford promoted and led special tours of Mammoth Cave so that African Americans could see the caves during segregation era, National Park Service.
8. Booker T. Washington National Monument, Virginia
This place marks Booker T. Washington’s birth as a slave, although the exact location of his birth remains unknown. Washington was the first principal of the historically black college known as Tuskegee Institute, and later became known as an important author and orator. His political leadership is evident as he was the first African American ever invited to the White House, as the guest of America’s “conservation president” Theodore Roosevelt.
9. Biscayne National Park, Florida
Preservation of this gorgeous marine park is due to the African-American Jones family of Porgy Key who once farmed its land. The remarkable story of this family concludes with Sir Lancelot, who after refusing to have his family’s land developed, sold this paradise to the National Park Service.
10. George Washington Carver National Monument, Missouri
George Washington Carver's love for nature drove him to become a famous agricultural scientist and inventor, educator and civic leader. His incredible influence is revealed by the fact that this monument was not only the first to be dedicated to an African-American, it was also the first to be dedicated to an American who'd never been president. This monument highlights the home of his youth, a time marked by numerous tragedies which formed him into a man of great legacy.
Photo credit: Missouri Division of Tourism, flickr.