Tag Archives: African American

Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve

Overview

The Timucuan Indians inhabited northeastern Florida’s coastal wetlands and maritime hammocks when French colonists first arrived in 1562.  The settlers constructed Fort Caroline (a National Memorial established in 1950), which the National Park Service (NPS) administers as a unit of Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve (established in 1988).  Start your visit at the NPS museum at Fort Caroline National Memorial, which provides information on the indigenous Timucuan, as well as the European colonization efforts.  Then you can tour a one-third scale reconstruction of the triangular Fort Caroline based upon a drawing from 1564 by French artist Jacques le Moyne.

Highlights

Fort Caroline, Kingsley Plantation, Theodore Roosevelt Area

Must-Do Activity

The second place the NPS manages a visitor center is at Kingsley Plantation on Fort George Island east of Jacksonville, Florida.  Established in 1798, it is the oldest remaining plantation house in Florida.  Slaves here harvested Sea Island cotton, which is still grown in a small garden alongside indigo, another regional cash crop.  Visitors can take a self-guided trail around the property, but tours inside the main plantation house are only offered on weekends and require a reservation.

Best Trail

The 1.5-mile Willie Browne Trail winds through the 600 undeveloped acres at Theodore Roosevelt Area, donated by the trail’s namesake to the Nature Conservancy in 1969.  The Spanish Pond Trail connects this trail with Fort Caroline National Memorial.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The tabby walls of 23 of the original 32 slave quarters still stand in a row at Kingsley Plantation. 

Peak Season

Winter

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/timu/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All major roads are paved, but the fastest route between Fort Caroline and Kingsley Plantation is probably via the St. Johns River Ferry.

Camping

The NPS does not have a campground, but nearby Little Talbot Island State Park, Huguenot Memorial Park, and Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park all do.

Related Sites

Fort Caroline National Memorial (Florida)

Fort Matanzas National Monument (Florida)

Castillo de San Marcos National Monument (Florida)

Explore More – Florida had “relatively liberal” racial policies under Spanish rule, but that changed when it became a U.S. territory in what year?

Natchez National Historical Park

Overview

Authorized in 1988, Natchez National Historical Park occupies 82 acres in the riverside town of Natchez, Mississippi.  The town started as Fort Rosalie, a French trading post built on the Mississippi River in the early 1700s, now the site of the Visitor Reception Center.  National Park Service (NPS) rangers or volunteers are always on location at the William Johnson House and Melrose Estate.  Although it is not part of the NPS unit, we also recommend a stop at the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians State Historic Site for its free museum, film, historic mounds, and air conditioning (which is important in the humid summer).

Highlights

Melrose Estate, William Johnson House, Fort Rosalie

Must-Do Activity

The museum in the William Johnson House tells the story of a slave freed at age 11 by his owner, also named William Johnson and presumed to be his father.  The boy apprenticed to a barber, eventually becoming a successful businessman and slave owner himself.  A diary he kept for 16 years provides insight into antebellum Natchez, including the May 7, 1840 tornado that destroyed downtown, which had about 5,000 inhabitants at the time.  Inside the NPS museum you will learn the strange story of William Johnson’s murder in 1851 that ended in three mistrials.

Best Trail

Naturally, Natchez is one terminus of the Natchez Trace Parkway, which also preserves its share of history starting at the Elizabeth Female Academy Site (Milepost 5.1) just outside town.  There are a few portions of the Old Trace that you can still follow along on the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The Melrose Estate recalls the antebellum period when slaves grew cotton in the rich soil of the Mississippi River floodplains.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/natc/planyourvisit/hours.htm

The NPS museum at the William Johnson House is closed daily for lunch.

Fees

None for Fort Rosalie, William Johnson House, and Melrose Estate grounds, but $10 per person for mansion interior tours (no discount for America the Beautiful pass)

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Rocky Springs is the furthest south campground managed by the NPS on the Natchez Trace Parkway (Milepost 54.8) and it has no fees for camping.

Related Sites

Vicksburg National Military Park (Mississippi)

Cane River Creole National Historical Park (Louisiana)

Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail (Mississippi-Alabama-Tennessee)

Explore More – In 1839 a fire burned through Natchez destroying the William Johnson House, but the family was living in the country at the time to avoid an epidemic of what disease?

Reconstruction Era National Historical Park

Overview

Like Freedom Riders National Monument in Alabama, President Obama established Reconstruction Era National Monument in 2017.  The park is located about an hour south of Charleston, South Carolina and is still under development, but they already have a Junior Ranger program.  The Reconstruction Era took place following the Civil War when the U.S. military helped freed African-American slaves integrate into southern society.  It was a complicated and mostly failed social experiment with long-lasting repercussions within American culture.

Highlights

Old Beaufort Firehouse, Robert Smalls Memorial, Camp Saxton, Penn Center, Brick Baptist Church

Must-Do Activity

We recommend the ranger-guided tour of Camp Saxton that leaves from the National Park Service (NPS) operated Porter’s Chapel, next to the skate park in Port Royal, South Carolina.  Following the loss of Fort Sumter, the Union Army occupied this area by late-1861, eventually training former slaves to serve as soldiers.  There is nothing left to see of the camp, but there are tabby walls from old Fort Frederick.  After a short walk, the park ranger will help you imagine what the scene would have looked like when the black soldiers were officially freed on Emancipation Day, January 1, 1863.

Best Trail

You can walk around the historic Penn Center (guided tours offered) where the NPS maintains a visitor center in Darrah Hall, a donated part of this National Historic Landmark that has a long history of African-American education. 

Instagram-worthy Photo

The Old Sheldon Church Ruins are not technically part of the park, but they are located just down the road from the Penn Center.  The Parrish Church of St. Helena outside Beaufort is also very photogenic.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/reer/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All major access roads are paved, although parking can be scarce around Port Royal during the farmers’ market.

Camping

Hunting Island and Edisto Beach State Parks both take camping reservations, so book early.  There are also campgrounds and backcountry campsites north of Charleston, South Carolina in Francis Marion National Forest.

Related Sites

Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historical Park (South Carolina)

Camp Nelson Heritage National Monument (Kentucky)

Fort Monroe National Monument (Virginia)

Explore More – How did future U.S. Congressman Robert Smalls escape slavery during the Civil War?

Freedom Riders National Monument

Overview

On May 4, 1961, an interracial group of “Freedom Riders” boarded two buses in Washington, D.C. bound for New Orleans to test whether southern bus stations were following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that ended segregation in interstate travel.  On Sunday, May 14, the Greyhound bus was met by an angry mob in Anniston, Alabama that broke windows and slashed tires.  Eventually police officers cleared a path for the bus, but it was forced to stop just five miles outside town where a bundle of flaming rags caused an explosion and fire inside the vehicle.  Everyone escaped the bus although there were attempts to trap the seven Freedom Riders on board.  Joseph Postiglione’s iconic photo of the burning bus appeared in newspapers across the country, encouraging more Freedom Riders and changes to laws.

Highlights

Greyhound bus depot, Trailways bus station, site of bus burning

Must-Do Activity

President Obama established Freedom Riders National Monument in 2017, so the park is still under development, but they do already have an outstanding Junior Ranger program.  The National Park Service (NPS) has temporary displays inside its visitor center in the historic Anniston bus station and outside is a beautiful mural of a Greyhound bus and an audio recounting of the 1961 events by Hank Thomas, a survivor.  Down the road on Highway 202, the bus burning site is currently just an informational display in a field.  We were there for the 60th anniversary events, when 400 luminaria were placed to represent the total number of Freedom Riders.  Several other murals can be found around Anniston, including a second Tramways bus at Noble and 9th Street with Charles Person’s audio description of events that took place that same day. We also recommend the excellent Freedom Rides Museum (admission charged) in Montgomery, Alabama, where similar violence took place on May 20, 1961.

Best Trail

None

Instagram-worthy Photo

In the alley next to the NPS visitor center, in front of the life-sized mural of a 1961 Greyhound bus is a lamp dedicated in August 2013 to the bravery of the Freedom Riders.

Peak Season

Spring

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/frri/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Street parking is free outside the NPS visitor center.  To access the bus burning site, be sure to park off Old Birmingham Highway and not along the busy Highway 202 shoulder.

Camping

South of Interstate 20, campgrounds can be found in Cheaha State Park and Talladega National Forest, which also provides dispersed camping and great backpacking opportunities.

Related Sites

Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument (Alabama)

Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historical Park (Georgia)

Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Monument (Mississippi)

Explore More – Who was the future U.S. Congressman who took part in the 1961 Freedom Rides?

Top 10 African American NPS Sites

Civil Rights leaders and African American pioneers are remembered at numerous sites in the National Park Service (NPS) system.  All February we have been adding posts about sites dedicated to famous Americans in honor of Black History Month.  Below is a ranking of our favorite places that we have visited.  Click here to check out all of our Top 10 Lists.

10. Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site (District of Columbia)

This Victorian townhouse served as headquarters for the National Council of Negro Women (1943-66)

9. African Burial Ground National Monument (New York)

A memorial to the African slaves and freedmen that lived in New York City in the 1700s

8. Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site (Virginia)

Tour the 28-room home of an African American philanthropist in Richmond

7. Frederick Douglass National Historic Site (District of Columbia)

Be sure to stop at Frederick’s original man cave “The Growlery” after your tour inside his home

6. Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park (Maryland)

A museum opened here in 2017 to interpret this incredible woman’s life

5. Booker T. Washington National Monument (Virginia)

Learn about the daily life of a slave in antebellum Virginia who grew up to found Tuskegee Institute

4. Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site (Kansas)

Thought-provoking exhibits fill the classrooms of an old school in Topeka

3. George Washington Carver National Monument (Missouri)

The story of a Renaissance Man born a slave in southwestern Missouri

2. Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site (Arkansas)

Learn about school integration at the visitor center kitty-corner from this architectural beauty

…and finally our #1 African American NPS site:

1. Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site (Alabama)

Civil Rights pioneers in the military are celebrated at this site created in 1998

Honorable Mentions

There are seven new National Monuments created in the last decade dedicated to African American history that we look forward to visiting:

Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument (Alabama)

Camp Nelson Heritage National Monument (Kentucky)

Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument (Ohio)

Freedom Riders National Monument (Alabama)

Harriet Tubman National Historical Park (New York)

Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Monument (Mississippi)

Reconstruction Era National Monument (South Carolina)