Black History Month, celebrated every February in the States, 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.
With that in mind, we’d like to celebrate and highlight a few folks. This is the tip of the iceberg – the National Parks Service and U.S. Forest Service have great resources honoring African American contributions.
Right in our own backyard:
Although the Civil War is commemorated with scores of monuments and historic battlefields, 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, not just a Metro Stop name, consists of a granite plaza highlighted by statuary and a wall of honored names provides a fitting tribute to the nearly 210,00 African Americans who served.
Credited with establishing Negro History Week (forerunner to Black History Month) in 1926, Dr. Carter G. Woodson spent most of his life gathering an accurate written history of the African experience in America, and his home was the headquarters for the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. Today, the Dr. Carter G. Woodson Home National Historic Site nestled in between Shaw and Logan Circle serves as testament to his efforts to inform the public on the role of African Americans in history. Before Dr. Carter G. Woodson, there was very little accurate written history about the lives and experiences of Americans of African descent.
In the Capitol Hill institution Lincoln Park, you may have noticed a monument to educator and activist Mary McLeod Bethune. Known as “The First Lady of The Struggle” because of her commitment to gain better lives for African Americans, she was appointed as a national adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and was a noted educator, founding a private school for African American students that is now Bethune-Cookman University. The first monument to honor a black woman in a public park in the District of Columbia, the inscription on the monument “let her works praise her” speaks of her many accomplishments.
After escaping slavery in Maryland, Frederick Douglass was committed to freedom and he dedicated his life to achieving justice for all Americans, and in particular African-Americans, women and minority groups. A talented writer, powerful speaker and passionate abolitionist he envisioned America as an inclusive nation strengthened by diversity and free of discrimination. Douglass’s legacy is preserved at Cedar Hill, Known to us as the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in historic Anacostia, where he lived his last 17 years.
A perennial favorite is the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, where 2015 Canopy Award Honoree Oehme van Sweden create a landscape memorial that honored Dr. King, was sensitive to its placement near the Tidal Basin’s beloved Yoshino cherry trees and focused on providing adequate canopy coverage to shade pedestrians while they learn more about MLK’s legacy and work.
Pioneers in our field:
In addition to a long list of military honors and achievements, Col. Charles Young (left) was the first African American acting superintendent of a national park (Sequoia-Kings Canyon). 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.
Considered the country’s first African-American forester, Ralph Brock (pictured to the right and in the feature image above) was one of the six graduates of the first class of Pennsylvania State Forest Academy in 1906. In 2000, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources renamed the South Mountain Seed Orchard, long a mainstay of state forest seed and seedling production in the state, the Ralph E. Brock Seed Orchard in a salute to the Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania native.
Last, but never least:
The countless people of color that work tirelessly to help the U.S. Forest Service, National Parks Service, and so many other agencies and organizations reach their goals. One of those is Robert Stovall, one of the only African American line officer working in the Alaska region for the U.S. Forest Service. He is a part of the team that manages 890,000 acres of the Seward Ranger District within the Chugach National Forest, the second largest national forest.
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.
Editor’s Note: This piece was updated with information on the Carter G. Woodson Home National Historic Site.