Tag Archives: civil rights

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)

Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historical Park

Overview

Sweet Auburn is a neighborhood in Atlanta, Georgia where Martin Luther King, Jr. was baptized and ordained as a minister in Ebenezer Baptist Church.  The National Park Service (NPS) was granted 39 acres here in 1980 to honor the Civil Rights leader who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.  Following his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee, King’s funeral was held at Ebenezer Baptist Church on April 4, 1968.  It is free to visit the NPS museum, birth home, and affiliated Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change.

Highlights

Museum, Ebenezer Baptist Church, MLK birth home, Reflection Pool tomb

Must-Do Activity

Inside the NPS museum, immersive audiovisual bubbles take visitors through the life of this prominent Civil Rights protestor.  A short walk is required to enter his boyhood home (which is wheelchair accessible).  Silence is mandatory while inside.  Outside the neighboring King Center, the Reflection Pool contains the tombs of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife Coretta Scott King, as well as an eternal flame. 

Best Trail

None

Instagram-worthy Photo

When reviewing this picture, Tiff swore she thought Gandhi was holding a selfie stick and was wearing sunglasses.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

A large, free parking lot is located north of the NPS visitor center.

Camping

Campgrounds are located outside Atlanta at the Corps of Engineers’ Lake Sidney Lanier and Forest Service’s Chattahoochee National Forest.

Related Sites

Martin Luther King, Jr.  National Memorial (District of Columbia)

Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Monument (Mississippi)

Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area (Georgia)

Explore More – How was Martin Luther King, Jr.’s mother also tragically killed by gunshot in 1974?

Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site

Overview

If you visit Richmond National Battlefield Park in Virginia, do not miss the other National Park Service (NPS) site in that city.  Maggie L. Walker was an African American philanthropist that started the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank in 1902 and was the only female bank president in the U.S. at the time.  As a member of the Independent Order of St. Luke since age 14, she also helped establish a newspaper and department store to help the local African American community.

Highlights

Museum, film, house tour, Jackson Ward National Historic Landmark District

Must-Do Activity

The 1930s-era home of this Civil Rights advocate can only be entered on an NPS ranger guided tour.  Walker lived in the oft-expanded, 28-room house from 1904 until her death thirty years later, and almost every piece of furniture in the house is original.  The NPS visitor center at 600 N 2nd Street is very small, but they do show a short film inside the tiny museum, which provides a good introduction before the tour.

Best Trail

None

Instagram-worthy Photo

The master bathroom includes a bidet, which is not something we have seen on any of the other NPS house tours we have taken (and we have been on a lot!).

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Street parking is required as there is not a designated lot.

Camping

Pocahontas State Park and Forest offers a campground with running water just outside Richmond, Virginia.

Related Sites

Richmond National Battlefield Park (Virginia)

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

Fort Monroe National Monument (Virginia)

Explore More – The Walker family owned the house until the NPS took ownership of the 1.25-acre property in what year?

Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site

Overview

In 1875, Mary McLeod Bethune was born the 15th of 17 children to former slaves in South Carolina.  Throughout her life she fought for civil rights, founding the Daytona Educational and Industrial School for Negro Girls in Florida (which later merged to become Bethune-Cookman College).  In 1943, she purchased a Victorian townhouse in Washington, D.C.’s Logan Circle area to serve as her residence for six years and headquarters for the National Council of Negro Women (until a fire in 1966).

Highlights

House tour, film, National Archives for Black Women’s History, Logan Circle Historic District

Must-Do Activity

Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site was designated by Congress in 1982.  Since 1994, the National Park Service (NPS) has managed the property displaying historic photographs and original furnishings in some of the 15 rooms.  After a self-guided tour of the house, go check out a 12-foot tall statue of Mary McLeod Bethune located in Lincoln Park on East Capitol Street.

Best Trail

You can pick up an informational booklet at this site for the Washington, DC Black History National Recreation Trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

This is the only NPS site we have visited where the first thing you do upon arrival is ring the doorbell.

Peak Season

Spring and summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

As with most NPS sites in Washington, D.C., it is easier to walk or take the Metro than find parking for your car.

Camping

There are no NPS campgrounds in the Washington, D.C. area, so it might be best to head for Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

Related Sites

Carter G. Woodson Home National Historic Site (District of Columbia)

Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument (District of Columbia)

Martin Luther King, Jr.  National Memorial (District of Columbia)

Explore More – Before her death in 1955, Mary McLeod Bethune worked on civil rights issues for how many U.S. Presidents?

Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site

Overview

This historic college for African Americans is also the final resting place for pioneering staff members Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver.  In 1881, a 25-year-old Washington moved to an abandoned plantation in Alabama to found the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute with a $2,000 appropriation from the state.  From its initial enrollment of 30 students, Tuskegee has grown and continues to be an active and prominent university today.

Highlights

Historic campus, George Washington Carver Museum, Tuskegee Chapel, The Oaks

Must-Do Activity

Since only eight of the 58 acres dedicated to this National Historic Site are owned by the National Park Service (NPS) on this active college campus, it behooves you to call ahead to schedule your visit.  Guided tours are available of the university and The Oaks, the historic Washington family home that was built by students.  At least make sure the excellent George Washington Carver Museum is open when you visit.  At the beginning of World War II, the school was selected to train African-American pilots, which is detailed at the nearby Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, also managed by the NPS.

Best Trail

None

Instagram-worthy Photo

The sculpture of Booker T. Washington lifting the veil of ignorance from a slave was completed by Charles Keck in 1922.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads are paved, but there is limited parking on campus for tourists.

Camping

Chewacla State Park is located northeast of town and primitive camping is allowed in Tuskegee National Forest (the smallest U.S. National Forest at 11,252 acres).

Related Sites

Booker T. Washington National Monument (Virginia)

George Washington Carver National Monument (Missouri)

Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site (Alabama)

Explore More – How many bricks were made and laid by Tuskegee students to build the original chapel in 1896-98?