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Friday, August 9, 2013

The Geography of Landmarks

BlackPast.org recently launched a new section called National African American Historic Landmarks. These landmarks have been certified by the National Park Service and are organized by state. As you peruse this list and notice any omissions, please let us know.

Buffalo Soldiers, 25th Infantry, Fort Keough, Montana 1890
There two other aspects of the National Park Service that require us all to pay attention. First, from the very inception of the National Park Service, and the difficulties in getting it established (much attention is paid to this in the excellent book The Big Burn:Teddy Roosevelt and the Saving of America by Tim Egan, purchasing it here benefits BlackPast.org), African Americans have been closely associated with its success. Buffalo Soldiers, like their white counterparts, were among the first park and back country rangers in the years following the Civil War, as rangers were an outgrowth of the military.  Colonel Charles Young (died 1923), the third African American graduate of West Point, is considered by many to be the first African American Superintendent of a National Park. For more great photos of African Americans in the National Park Service, click on this link.
Yosemite Ranger Shelton Johnson, 2011, Mariposa Museum

Second, there has been concern by National Park Service administrators and by African American Rangers regarding the low numbers of various ethnic groups, particularly African Americans, as visitors to National Parks. In surveys done by the National Park Service, a significant number of respondents said they felt unwelcome in many parks and felt that safety was an issue. The Park Service is making attempts to redress this situation. One outcome has been the certification of African American Landmarks, mentioned at the top of this post. Outreach by Rangers such as Shelton Johnson is also part of this effort.

A related concern is the low number of African Americans in the sciences in general and environmental sciences in particular. By engaging youth in such places as the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial with young, enthusiastic Rangers, it is hoped that more people will feel an excitement that will translate into a career worth pursuing as well as encouraging their families to visit more National Park sites.
Rangers at the MLK Memorial