Historical

Following in the Footsteps of African-American Changemakers

Each generation has its own list of iconic women and men, changemakers who disrupted the norm and influenced the course of American history. These individuals come from all walks of life, economic strata, and geographic areas; and, many of their stories are sprinkled throughout the National Park System. Here are three examples of national parks that tell the story of African-American women and men who transformed our nation, inspiring countless individuals at the time and still to this day.

Yosemite National Park

California
The First Park Rangers

One of America’s most iconic parks, California’s Yosemite National Park, was first patrolled and protected not by park rangers, but by U.S. Army regiments. Among them, Buffalo Soldiers, segregated African-American troops, served to protect the park, evicting poachers and timber thieves and extinguishing forest fires. In the late 19th century, about 500 Buffalo Soldiers served here and at Sequoia National Park. The soldiers, many of whom were Philippine War veterans, helped construct roads and trails in the park. They even helped build infrastructure, including an arboretum built in 1904.

Visiting the park today, giant sequoias and stunning waterfalls remain as they were under the care of the Buffalo Soldiers. Hike, drive, or perhaps consider horseback riding — just as the infantry did while on mounted patrol through the park! Each adventure in Yosemite National Park is a reminder of the many individuals who served to protect the area, despite the burden of racism and the difficult task of preserving the land.

Things to Do

  • Biking
  • Arts & Culture
  • Birdwatching
  • Boating
  • Camping
  • Children's Programs

Maggie L Walker National Historic Site

Virginia
Breaking Barriers and Transforming a Community

The story of Maggie Walker is one of determination and vision. At a time when African-Americans were oppressed by Jim Crow laws that enforced racial segregation and women weren’t allowed to vote, Walker stood as a guiding light: creating business and community regardless of the circumstances she faced. Not only was she the first African-American woman to found a bank, her leadership allowed for a better standard of living for many African-Americans and women. Walker’s incredible business acumen and charisma remain an incredible story of success against all odds.

Today at the Maggie L Walker National Historic Site in Richmond, Virginia, park rangers provide tours through Walker’s home. Visitors can watch a short movie about Walker’s legacy and tour the neighborhood via the Historic Jackson Ward podcast tour. Meanwhile, kids and students can learn about this inspirational leader through the park’s Junior Ranger activity booklet.

Things to Do

  • Children's Programs
  • Historical
  • Shopping
  • Tours

Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park

Georgia
Leading a Nation Towards Greater Equality

Almost 100 years after the Civil War, the civil rights movement was truly ignited. One of its leading voices — a voice that moved hearts and minds — was that of Martin Luther King Jr. From helping to end transportation segregation in Alabama to leading the voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, King transformed America and brought the rights of African-Americans to the forefront of the nation’s attention.

Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park includes several areas, including the King Center, King’s birth and family homes, Fire Station No. 6, and Ebenezer Baptist Church. Walking through the home where King was raised and standing in the church where he preached, visitors will understand his life in a whole new way. The stories preserved in these places are a reminder to all who visit that every individual can help change the world for the better.

Things to Do

  • Arts & Culture
  • Children's Programs
  • Shopping
  • Tours

National parks are filled with stories of leaders who changed our local communities and the world. #FindYourPark / #EncuentraTuParque in national parks like these and be inspired by the past to build a better future!

Woman holding a camera walking in a field
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