Posts Tagged ‘African American History’

Hand in HandHappy Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Day. Wait a sec, I don’t have off work until Monday. What gives? Well, today is his official born on date, January 15, 1929. He would have been 79. What should you do to celebrate, either today or Monday?

Today has already happened so there’s little wiggle room there. But on Monday you could go to his National Historic Site in Atlanta! It’s encompasses terrific museum, Dr. King’s birth home, and the the Ebenezer Baptist Church.

We really enjoyed our time there amidst the healthy crowds and exciting energy. It was wonderful to see so many people of all colors, age and nationality remembering and learning about the incredible life and message of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. together. So even if you can’t travel to Atlanta, remember Dr. King’s message of togetherness, hope, and promise for a more peaceful future.

Click Here to Read More about Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site.


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Part of National Mall and Memorial Parks
Washington, D.C.
Visited: July 14, 2006
NPS Site Visited: 308 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Lincoln Memorial Full Frontal

The instantly recognizable white Georgia marble neo-Classical monument dedicated to our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln.

BEAUTY (8/10)
At the National Mall western end, the Lincoln Memorial stands, a steadfast Greek Temple that emanates greatness and elicits reflexive, earnest tribute. The ascent up its three flights of stairs builds the anticipation, heightens the spirit and takes you to the most fitting tribute any American president has yet to achieve.

Inside Abraham Lincoln sits. His position recalls an imagined recreation of the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Lincoln’s recreation is no less godlike, but instead of the bombast and tyranny of his mythical counterpart, he sits with the wisdom of Athena. Lincoln’s famed melancholy is no more; he sits with self-assuredness. His gaze is more complicated; it speaks of hope and pride but also shows wariness and fear.

Despite its grand scale and lofty symbolism, the Lincoln Memorial is not triumphalist. It shows a man with flaws and sensitivities. It speaks to a hopeful future accompanied by thought and a humble character. It speaks to what America should be.

Penny for Your ThoughtsHISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (8/10)
The Lincoln Memorial has seen historic significance rare to most memorials and monuments. Since soon after its dedication, the Memorial has played host to countless concerts, political demonstrations and speeches. Perhaps the only speech to rival the legend of Lincoln’s own Gettysburg Address occurred here: Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. On that August 28, 1963 day, the Lincoln Memorial grounds served as the centerpiece for the one of the most important (and among the largest) political rallies ever to occur, the 1963 March on Washington.

CROWDS (9/10)
There were a lot of people here! The mass of humanity that was milling about, ascending and descending the stairs and waiting patiently to be photographed next to Lincoln’s knees were all in celebratory, dare we say, jubilant moods despite the heat of the day. This classic American landmark’s grand size can handle all comers with ease.

The easiest way to visit is via the Tourmobile® Sightseeing buses. Your $20.00 per adult all day ticket drops you off in front of the both the Lincoln Memorial, the nearby Vietnam Veterans and Korean Memorials and every other National Mall-area attraction.

The Lincoln Memorial is located on the western edge of the National Mall, just south of a dense conglomeration of federal offices. The more adventurous (or masochistic) tourist could find a metered street parking space among this mess of barricaded one-ways streets, diplomat-only meters and tricky diagonal intersections but we do not recommended it.

The nearest D.C. Metro stop is Foggy-Bottom-GWU, located three-quarters of a mile to the north at the intersection of 23rd and I Streets. This downhill concrete walk always seems longer than the distance indicates.

The President’s KneeCONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (2/5)
Oddly inadequate. The Lincoln Memorial bookstore is tucked away in the inner right corner of the Memorial’s mezzanine. It is far too small to handle its crowd, especially when a baby stroller is pushed into the mix. Shelf space is divvied up between the Lincoln Memorial and other nearby bookstore-less sites, including the Vietnam Veterans and Korean War Memorials. A few books on civil rights and more recent military involvements are scattered in there for good measure.

We could find no rhyme or reason for the bookstore offerings or why some titles were chosen over others. We couldn’t even find a cool magnet. Those looking for substantial information on our 16th president will do much better at the Ford’s Theater NHS.

COSTS (4/5)
Not a penny to see the front and back of a penny.

The area in and around the Lincoln Memorial’s circular perimeter appeared to be a Ranger-free zone. We saw security guards, bookstore clerks and construction workers doing Memorial restoration but no Rangers. Even the tiny downstairs Lincoln museum appeared to be un-staffed.

Park literature states that there are Park Ranger programs every day at all the National Mall Memorials. Somehow, we missed them all. We understand that the D.C. experience is primarily visceral; it is about being overwhelmed with larger than life statues and legendarily great men.

The Lincoln Memorial needs no elaboration and no educational help. Old Abe sits on his throne and regally looks over the capital city of the country he reunited (and broke apart according to some). His greatest words, the Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address, flank him on either side, in their full glory and in complete context.

That is why the Lincoln Museum, located beneath the Memorial, is disappointing. The Museum consists mostly of granite-etched Lincoln quotes regarding equality, freedom, emancipation and the Union. These quotes are mangled and taken out of context in a misguided attempt to portray Lincoln as a fiery abolitionist. The museum exhibits reveal more about the curators and their opinions about Lincoln than Lincoln himself.

Side View FUN (10/10)
From his perch, Abe Lincoln enjoys the best and most classic view in Washington, D.C. He overlooks his own reflecting pool, the new World War II Memorial, the soaring obelisk Washington Monument, the National Mall and finally the U.S. Capitol. The vista is stirring at all times and in all seasons. The views and the history will infuse strong patriotic emotions into even the most cynical of Americans. The Lincoln Memorial is a resolute reminder of the positive strength of both humanity and the self.

The Lincoln Memorial is Michael’s favorite place in Washington D.C. Every time he walks up its steps he feels the same rush of expectation and the same flood of emotions. It is a pilgrimage site and a place to give secular thanks and blessings not just to Mr. Lincoln but to Dr. King and the pioneers of the many human rights organizations that have rallied here. The Lincoln Memorial is a quintessential American icon and a must-see destination for all Americans.

TOTAL 60/80

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near Rocky Mount, Va.
Visited: November 1, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 278 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Site dedicated to Booker T. Washington, a man born into slavery in 1856, who became a major figure in turn of the century United States history. Washington is best known as the longtime president of Tuskegee Institute and intellectual adversary of W.E.B. Du Bois.

BEAUTY (6/10)
Beautiful rolling, rural Virginia countryside nestled next to the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. On this farm, horses roam, geese squawk, pigs slop and sheep lounge.

The reconstructed slave quarters, tobacco barns and meat curing rafters are not as extensive as they must have been 150 years ago. The horrors of slavery are hard to imagine when everything feels so pleasant. Only when you read and hear stories of the intensive labor it takes to harvest tobacco does the situation fall slowly into perspective.

Interestingly, Booker T. Washington’s exploits and achievements are neither the primary nor the sole focus of his eponymous Site. Instead, the Site delves into a much wider reaching and historically vital topic: Virginia and Carolina tobacco farming and the institution of slavery, a subject widely ignored at other relevant National Park Sites.

CROWDS (7/10)
We pulled into an empty parking lot. In the time it took to collect the camera and Passport book and lock the car, the lot had suddenly spawned several more cars. Where did everyone come from?

We hurried inside to beat the rush only to find Rangers setting up a special presentation for the afternoon’s Elderhostel tour. They welcomed us and invited us to grab a seat and tag along for the special talk on tobacco cultivation and tour of the grounds.

Have we mentioned we love Elderhostels?

The Site is located along Virginia Route 122 in a very rural part of the Commonwealth State about 22 miles from Roanoke and the Interstate 581 spur of I-81. From I-581, you have two choices: 1) Go South along U.S. Route 220 for 17 miles south until you get to the Va. Route 122 intersection at Rocky Mount. The Site is about 15 miles to the northeast along this road; or 2) take Virginia Route 116 south for 15 miles to the Route 122 intersection at Burnt Chimney. The Site is four miles to the northeast.

Choice one is longer, but might be faster. Choice two is the scenic route. Once you get to the Site, an easy grass path, called the plantation trail, meanders from the Visitor Center through the farm where Booker T. was born.

The Site has one of the better collections of African American-related history texts we have seen thus far.

COSTS (4/5)
No admission fees whatsoever.

We spent time with three different Rangers during our short visit. One who gave the tobacco talk; one leading the walking tour. and one who discussed Tuskegee, Booker T. and the lack of an NPS site dedicated to W.E.B. Du Bois at the bookstore.

His response to why no Du Bois site? Because he was a socialist. Michael’s quick response: What about Eugene O’Neill and Carl Sandburg? You know, you make a good point, he added while laughing.

On the day of our visit, we were treated to both a Ranger talk and a Ranger-led tour of the grounds. Neither of these are daily occurrences at the Site but neither were that substantial. We learned more chatting casually with the Ranger left behind to manage the bookstore.

On the FarmWhat the Site lacks in daily Ranger-led events and museum space, it compensates for with special events like book signings and lectures from guest speakers held at least twice a month. The Site has even started a Booker T. Washington Book Club which held its first meeting this month.

April 1st marks Booker T. Washington´s 150th Birthday and the Booker T. Washington National Monument´s 50th Anniversary. An all day celebration is scheduled.

FUN (5/10)
The Booker T. Washington NM provides an enjoyably rural setting for a peaceful afternoon. We found ourselves lingering even though we had seen and done everything that was offered. We even took advantage of the tables and benches next to the parking lot and had an impromptu picnic.

A trip to the Site can easily be fit in your road trip vacation itinerary because it lies just off the heavily vacationed Blue Ridge Parkway. This important historical destination honors a fascinating great American and enjoys a diverse staff of Rangers, all with unique pedagogic specialties.

TOTAL 53/80

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Diamond, Mo.
Visited: September 1, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 245 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website


The birthplace and boyhood home of George Washington Carver, one of America’s greatest inventors and one of her most remarkable men.

In ThoughtBEAUTY (6/10)
The George Washington Carver National Monument landscape is calming, quiet and lends towards introspection. From the VC, the Carver Trail passes George’s birthplace, the ruins of a tiny cabin, and descends into the forest until reaching the remarkable Boy Carver statue. The statue portrays a young George deep in thought, his head tilted slightly towards the sky caught in a daydream, an idea and with a relaxing peace of mind.

The statue hurtles you into the Carver’s natural world, a world of necessary escape but a world of opportunity. Carver saw it as God’s world; he believed that the Creator spoke to him “through flowers, rocks, animals, plants and all other aspects of His creations”. While walking in Carver’s common, but extraordinary woodland oasis you might become one with his understanding and experience a flash of his genius.

How can you quantify the life of George Washington Carver? His story, his life and his absolute loving, humble Christian demeanor are so unbelievable.

Carver was born a slave in 1864 in Missouri, perhaps America’s most volatile and violent state. Shortly after his birth, Missouri bushwhackers kidnapped both him and his mother. His slave owners recovered George, at the time nearly dead from whooping cough, but never found his mother.

Carver spent his youth painting, learning about the plants and animals that surrounded him and teaching himself to read. The Carvers, formerly his owners, were illiterate and unable to assist George’s learning. He left home at eleven, moving from school to school, through sickness, extreme prejudice, violence and difficult jobs. In 1890, he found his way into Iowa State University’s agriculture program, where he would become their first African American graduate in 1894.

Carver then moved to Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute where his remarkable scientific career blossomed. Carver invented hundreds of food products, including peanut butter, and transformed the Southern farmers’ agricultural methods. By the 1920’s he had become friends with Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.

Carver died in 1943. Later that same year, FDR honored him with a National Park Site. This honor is especially remarkable when you consider that the nearby Arkansas schools did not begin desegregation until 1957 and in much of the South denied voting rights to African Americans until 1965.

CROWDS (6/10)
Just us. The Site should see waves of school group visitors any day now.

Pumpkin HarvestEASE OF USE/ACCESS (3/5)
The Carver birthplace is located in southwestern Missouri, about 20 miles from the town of Joplin. Take Interstate 44, Exit 11 and travel south down U.S. Route 71 for 5 miles. Turn east (left) and go down Missouri Route V for about 5 miles until you reach Carver Road. Turn south (right) and signs will point you to the Park.

The NPS has resurfaced the part of the Carver Trail from the Visitor Center to the Carver Statue with an environmentally friendly material made from recycled tires. This portion of the trail is fully accessible.

The store carries ten Carver biographies, five Carver children’s books and reprints of five separate Carver agricultural pamphlets. The bookstore also vends posters and Booker T. Washington biographies but the shelf entitled African American history is conspicuously bare.

African American history scholarship has flourished over the past 25 years. We should have run across a definitive collection of texts at one of the 15+ African American history-related sites we have visited. Instead, we run into bare shelves and self-help books. It does not make sense why there are more black history books at Civil War sites than at sites honoring Martin Luther King, the Brown v. Board of Education decision and George Washington Carver.

COSTS (5/5)
From the Park’s website: George Washington Carver once said, “The Lord charges nothing for knowledge and I will charge you the same.” Entry, as Mr. Carver wanted, is free. Free Ranger-led tours of the Site leave twice a day.

We had a personal Ranger tour albeit a rushed tour since she needed to get back to the Museum in order to give another Ranger a lunch break. The Carver Discovery Center was closed.

None of the Site’s educational offerings, the 40-year old film, the Mission ’66-era Museum and the rushed Ranger tour, was particularly compelling. The interactive Carver Discovery Center was closed during our visit and, although aimed at children, could have been fun.

In retrospect, we should have wandered both the Carver Trail and the Contemplative Loop Trail on our own, sans Ranger. Rocks bearing meditative GW Carver quotes appear during the entire journey giving an insight into his tremendous life. The Park’s trees, insects, animals, birds, ponds and pathways were Carver’s education. Nature was his personal teacher; we must learn to make it ours.

Quiet Nature WalkFUN (5/10)
Carver NM is Part One of the saga. George’s boyhood, while amazing, is the least interesting part of his story. The agricultural discoveries at Tuskegee, his aristocratic friendships and even his determined post-Missouri educational path are all more appealing than his boyhood. George left here at eleven and never again called it his home.

Touring the Carvers’ house also elicits odd emotions which we cannot come to grips with. The fact remains that they owned George in 1864 Missouri, two years after the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Missouri remained a slave state until the War’s end because it was pro-Union. How is that for irony? George never wrote about the situation with any animosity or mixed feelings, only thanks and appreciation, so why should we feel differently?

It is no wonder that rural Missouri life 150 years ago spawned the complicated race-probing writings of the greatest American author: Mark Twain.

We enjoyed the George Washington Carver Museum at the Tuskegee Institute much more. Nonetheless, if you are driving westward down I-44, the path of the classic American road, Route 66, then a quick stop to Carver’s birthplace is in order. It could be the last eastern woodland-forested landscape your cross-country trip will see.

TOTAL 45/80

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near Concord, Calif.
Visited: June 18, 2005
NPS Site Visited: Not an Official Site
NPS Affiliate Site Visited: 10 of 26
NPS Website

Ghost Pier at Port ChicagoWHAT IS IT?
Site of a July 17, 1944 ammunitions explosion that blew up two ships parked side-by-side on a loading pier and killed over 300 men. Port Chicago was the largest stateside disaster during World War II. Over 200 of those killed were enlisted African American seaman, 15% of all WWII African American deaths.

BEAUTY (4/10)
The Memorial consists of a small granite block commemorating the dedication. The names of those who died are etched in four table-top granite plaques that look out onto the remnants of the destroyed pier in the Carquinez Strait. You are looking out onto a watery graveyard. It is a chilling site. A mangled piece of metal sits near the plaques unmarked. The Ranger told us that it is a piece of one of the detonated ships. We are sure it has some stories to tell.

Many factors led to the incredible tragedy of Port Chicago: a segregated military force, no training for ammunition loaders, the loaded ammunition was live and two ships were loaded simultaneously side-by-side. The Navy addressed all these problems within years of the explosion largely because of the lessons learned at Port Chicago.

However, Port Chicago’s pull on our American psyche does not end there. The Port Chicago disaster holds great historic significance because it has been effectively erased from our collective national memory. It is not a story we repeat about our greatest generation.

The African Americans at Port Chicago had enlisted in the Navy with the understanding that they would be fighting overseas. Instead, the Navy sent them to Concord, California to load live ammunition.

Immediately following the disaster, other African American regiments spent the next weeks cleaning up the destruction, taking in the loss of their fellow seamen. The devastation caused by 5,000 tons of explosion was removed in just three weeks. At that point, the seamen were ordered to begin loading ammunition again, in the same way and in the same place where their fellow seamen had fallen.

Three divisions, 328 men, agreed to keep working but refused to load the dangerous ammunition. They were all taken into custody, 258 of them imprisoned on a floating barge and charged with mutiny. The threat of firing squad dwindled the number of resisters to 50.

The Court Martial began in September of 1944, the judgment coming soon after: dishonorable discharge and 8 to 15 years in jail. Future Supreme Court Justice and then NAACP attorney, Thurgood Marshall, watched the trial and was disturbed by its “obvious racism”. He argued for the seaman’s benefit before public officials and for the press. President Truman agreed and released the men once the War ended. The Court Martial and the explosion are often cited as the reason Truman desegregated the military in 1948.

The Navy has never taken responsibility for the disaster. They have always blamed the soldiers. Racism sears through their argument. The families of the fallen African American seamen have never been compensated. In contrast, the Navy immediately compensated the families of white Officers who died in the blast.

The memorial to the fallen seamen took 50 years to build. The remembrance saw the light of day only because of the tireless ten-year lobbying of a local Congressman and a president with a sympathetic ear. Five years after the memorial’s dedication, in 1999, President Clinton pardoned the 50 mutineers. Only one of the soldiers accepted the pardon, the others still believe they had done nothing wrong.

CROWDS (8/10)
The high security atmosphere of a working military base prevents you from driving to the Memorial. Instead, you drive to the base’s entrance, a Park Ranger picks you up in a minivan and drives you to the explosion site. We toured the Site with a retired African American man, his wife and daughter. He had served in the Navy. He was very familiar with the Port Chicago explosion. He and his family added a perspective and understanding to our visit that we would not have had without them.

An unexpected participant in our visit was an on-duty federal police officer. He trailed the NPS minivan in an SUV and watched us closely during our entire stay. We followed the NPS Ranger’s rules and kept our camera focused on only the Memorial.

<50 Years in the MakingEASE OF USE/ACCESS (1/5)
Port Chicago N MEM is located on the still-active Concord Naval Weapons Station. Access is very limited. You must arrange your visit ahead of time with a National Parks Service Ranger. The phone number is (925) 838-0249. Tours are available Wednesday through Saturday. In addition, no civilians are allowed on the base while the Weapons Station is handling live ammunition. Our request took three weeks to process (because of live ammo) and we knew our tour was OKed only a day prior to our visit.

Parts of the base have been included on the most recent base closure list. Contrary to most communities, Concord is eager for the base to close; they want the prime real estate developed. Accessing the Memorial will be much easier once the base closes.

The Site has no bookstore.

COSTS (5/5)
Port Chicago N MEM must be visited via a guided Ranger tour. Both the tour and entry are free.

One wonderful and tireless woman is the only Ranger that gives the mandatory tours at both Port Chicago N MEM and the Eugene O’Neill Tao House. She is it at both places. Nonetheless, five tourists to one Ranger was not a bad ratio.

Our Ranger-led tour was terrific, just as educational, thought provoking, and in-depth as an intensive graduate school level class. Our Ranger Tour Guide had a tangible passion to teach about the events at Port Chicago. She brought additional reading materials, pictures and histories into the minivan for us to peruse post-tour. Her tour illuminated an episode in American history that we knew nothing about despite not having what most Park sites enjoy: a Museum or even an official Parks Pamphlet.

FUN (5/10)
Port Chicago N MEM offers no easy answers. Questions of racism, mutiny during wartime, segregation and the Navy’s indifference are hard to address and fully comprehend when you are staring at a place where hundreds died. It is even harder to discern any truths because the Port Chicago explosion is such an unknown historical event. Our visit was not fun but it was very effective at stirring other emotions. We were disturbed, moved, angered, sympathetic and confused.

The only definitive conclusion we came to was that it should have never taken 50 years for the United States to memorialize the brave 300+ seamen who gave their lives to our country at Port Chicago.

Visiting the Port Chicago N MEM is difficult logistically and emotionally, but the men who died here should not remain forgotten. If you live nearby, a weekend visit makes for a powerful educational experience and is recommended.

TOTAL 46/80

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near Tybee Island, Ga.
Visited: February 3, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 143 of 353
NPS Website

Bombarded WallsWHAT IS IT?
One of 30 coastal forts built after the War of 1812 to protect the United States from foreign naval invasion. Fort Pulaski saw its only action early in 1861, during the start of the Civil War.

BEAUTY (6/10)
The pentagonal Fort Pulaski has not changed much since its construction. Its estimated 25 million red bricks and 7 1/2-foot thick led many to believe the Fort was invincible. The exterior of the south and southeastern walls prove otherwise. Large indentations and some mortar shells remain from when the Union troops successfully bombarded and captured the Confederate stronghold.

The Site boasts that military history changed forever at Fort Pulaski. The Union army’s use of its new invention, the rifled cannon, allowed them to easily breach the thick walls after just 30 hours. The 30 forts of the Third Coastal Defense system were suddenly obsolete after facing just one collective attack.

After the Yankees secured Fort Pulaski, their commander, General Hunter declared its inner sanctum to be a free zone for local slaves. This move pre-empted the Emancipation Proclamation by seven months and came in defiance of Abraham Lincoln’s public order. Many of the freed slaves who made it to Fort Pulaski joined the Union Army and fought as the First South Carolina Colored Regiment.

Fort Pulaski NM is made even more interesting with its endless small stories skillfully told our Ranger tour guide, the video and the Museum. Baseball’s founder was stationed here and organized one of its first games inside the grounds. Union General Hunter was from the South and did not become an abolitionist until after the war began. Robert E. Lee, as a young Engineer, worked on the Fort’s design and later, just prior to the Battle, mistakenly believed that it could not be attacked from Tybee Island (where the Union was stationed). He did not know about the rifled cannon.

In a completely unrelated historical note, Fort Pulaski rests on the tiny Cockspur Island, the same Island where John Wesley, founder of Methodism, first landed in the United States in 1736. It is said that he preached in the same live oak forest.

Cold Bird CROWDS (6/10)
A Jacksonville native escaping the Super Bowl was the only other person on our tour of the Fort. Because the group was so intimate, the Ranger took us out of the rain and through some of the rooms not normally open to the public. An unexpected treat.

The Site is 15 miles due east along U.S. Route 80 from downtown Savannah, the city it was built to protect.

The usual Civil War tomes are here, but so are at least six titles specific to Fort Pulaski, a large selection dedicated to the African American experience and one illustrated book that had Gab glued to the spot until she read it cover to cover. Songs from the Underground Railroad were playing quietly in the background; the space was warm and nicely lit. One of us could have stayed here all day.

COSTS (3/5)
Entry is $3 per adult or free with the National Parks Pass.

We noticed more people in NPS uniforms than visitors. Hard to say how many were actually interpretive Rangers.

In the summer months, Rangers give five tours a day of the Fort. That number is pared down to two in the off-season. We wandered into the Fort for the 11:00 a.m. tour, braving the 40º temperatures and cold rain. At 11:05, we were still alone. A Ranger popped his head out of his office and asked if we had any questions.

Pulaski InteriorThe resulting 45-minute tour of the Fort was an unforeseen pleasure. He was not an interpretive Ranger and did not have a script memorized. Instead, he told us stories, showed us hidden places and answered many questions.

15 minutes after he had started, another Ranger (the scheduled tour guide) ran into the Fort and announced that the 11:00 tour was cancelled because of inclement weather. His proclamation seemed silly to all of us while we were learning about the Union and Confederate use of human shields at the Fort. We greatly appreciated the Fort Pulaski Ranger’s generosity, not to mention his teaching acumen. He did not have to help us but he did.

The newly redone introductory video is excellent. Go see it before you make your way into the Fort. The small museum is also a treat. Fascinatingly designed original flags hang from the rafters behind protective glass. Notable among them is the familiar coiled snake “Don’t Tread on Me” South Carolina flag and one showcasing a menacing eagle labeled “Federal Government” attacking a pristine woman labeled with the names of the Confederate States. The message reads, “Touch her if you dare”.

FUN (7/10)
A series of disappointing Sites made us wary of yet another coastal fort. Oh look, some earthworks, and how about that cannon? Fort Pulaski NM distinguished itself with a small but excellent museum, a video that aided rather than obstructed our understanding of the Site and a Ranger that went out of his way to ensure that the few visitors to the Site didn’t leave without a tour.

And how about that cannon? The artillery that rests in the corner of the south and southeast walls actually saw action during the 1862 siege. It looks worse for wear, but not as bad as the walls themselves. Fort Pulaski NM bears the scars of the innovations in weaponry that made the Civil War our first modern war.

Rainy DayWe enjoyed this outdoor site, even in the pouring rain. We did not intend to spend three hours here but we did.

Facilities and staffing at Fort Pulaski NM are superior to Fort Frederica NM and Fort Caroline N MEM. With its close proximity to Savannah, Fort Pulaski NM is an easy side trip and a good reason to explore the beaches of Tybee Island.

TOTAL 57/80

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near Jacksonville, Fla.
Visited: February 2, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 140 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Kingsley PlantationWHAT IS IT?
46,000 acres existing mostly of salt marshes that border the slow urban sprawl of greater Jacksonville. The historical part of the preserve consists of a Sea Island cotton plantation and scattered Timucuan Indian ruins.

BEAUTY (3/10)
The Preserve is that garbled part of your northeastern Florida map where the Atlantic Ocean meets the fresh water of the St. John’s River. The terrain is mostly flat marshland, palms trees and many shades of green. The plantation home is stately, white and inaccessible to visitors because of structural damage. The slave quarter ruins reveal buildings constructed of tabby (oyster shells).

The Site’s historical presentation is a sprawling, jumbled confusing mess made even more vexing by its lack of Park Rangers, interpretive or otherwise. The Preserve covers at least four completely separate peoples and periods of history: pre-Columbian Timucuan Indians, 16th-century French Huguenots, 19th-century Sea Island slaves, and 1920’s socialites.

Many of the stories are fascinating but are told on neighboring exhibit panels and easy to mix up. The Preserve Museum and the Fort Caroline N MEM are one in the same. We found it difficult to get our heads around who, what, where and when. With Ranger assistance and clearer historical delineations, this site could be a trove of historical gems.

We believe we learned that the Timucuan were giant men averaging over 6’6” in height and that the Kingsley Plantation was run by a freed slave who was an African princess. She married Mr. Kingsley and they sold the Plantation after Florida became a part of the United States. The racial climate among slaves and owners in New Spain differed greatly than the “intolerant prejudice” found in the new American nation.

We wish it had been easier to learn more about this area’s intriguing past.

CROWDS (5/10)
Two vanloads of students proved more than the Plantation’s tiny Visitor Center/Bookstore could handle. Space restrictions have dictated the bookshelves’ place directly next to the entrance door. As a result, we struggled to get into the building and out of the rain; a dozen plus students were browsing the titles and blocked our way in. The volunteer on duty struggled to make sense of the chaotic scene around her while answering numerous questions. We came back later once the crowd had dispersed.

Without a sea kayak, 75% of the Park is inaccessible. The Timucuan Preserve Visitor Center is located at the Fort Caroline N MEM, which exists only as an adjunct to the Preserve. There are a few hiking trails scattered throughout the Park.

Welcome to Jacksonville
The Site’s historical centerpiece is the Kingsley Plantation, located on Fort George Island. A wide range of publications, including the USA Today, recommended the Plantation as a nice excursion during Jacksonville’s Super Bowl week festivities. The publicity has not warranted a paved road to the Plantation. It is a two-mile journey north from Route 105 down a single lane road reminiscent of a jeep trail seen in Jurassic Park.

Bookstores at Fort Caroline N MEM and Kingsley Plantation have little in common although they service the same Ecological and Historical Preserve. A few books on people known as the Timucua can be found among the Fort Caroline histories. Some Florida-specific titles are among ubiquitous bird and nature guides. Looking through the store, there is little to explain what is special about the area or why is celebrated with a unique NPS designation.

Kingsley Plantation offers familiar essays and books by African American authors and a few site-specific gems like the collection of Zephaniah Kingsley’s writings entitled, Balancing Evils Judiciously where he elaborates his pro-slavery, pro-black views. Slave narratives and modern accounts of African American life in Jacksonville give this bookstore more focus and substance than its counterpart a Fort Caroline.

COSTS (4/5)
The Site is free, but it does not really get you much. You cannot go into the Kingsley Plantation.

Three Florida State Parks border the Timucuan Preserve. They all charge admission fees.

No Rangers at the Timucuan Visitor Center (Fort Caroline N MEM) or the Plantation. And it was Super Bowl week.

The Fort Caroline N MEM volunteer did not place historical value in the Plantation as she curtly disparaged the freed African slave woman who ran the farm. At the Plantation, we found only a frazzled but helpful volunteer.

There is no video at either Visitor Center. No Ranger-led activities. A black and white pamphlet and a photocopied piece of paper were all we had to guide us around Kingsley Plantation. Even those were absent at Fort Caroline.

Exhibits in the Fort Caroline Visitor Center are pleasing to the eye, but difficult to follow. Low ceilings and bad acoustics don’t help.

RuinsFUN (3/10)
What little fun we derived from the day came at the expense of Jacksonville, which became the punch line for most of our jokes.

Not in its present state. The Kingsley Plantation was especially disappointing. Nothing about this sea island location was familiar to us. We drove down its dirt road and felt transported to another era, a place whose history we have never learned or properly understood. At Kingsley, we found the physical historical resources but none of the necessary interpretive help. We hope that this will change.

TOTAL 29/80

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Topeka, Kans.
Visited: August 4, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 70 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Hallway at Brown v. Board SchoolWHAT IS IT?
A museum that commemorates the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Supreme Court decision that made segregation in public schools illegal. The NHS is located in the Monroe Elementary building, the location of one of the five schools whose segregation case was consolidated in the NAACP argument.

BEAUTY (4/10)
Monroe Elementary School is an Italian Renaissance two-story red brick and limestone building. Its beauty and power comes from its representative nature. It could look like the old Lemoyne High School building on Market Street, it could look like the Progress Elementary School where Michael’s mom teaches kindergarten. It could look like any school built in the early 20th century anywhere in America. But it isn’t. It is the school where the first battle against legal segregation was won.

May 17, 2004 marked the 50th Anniversary of the Supreme Court decision as well as the opening day of the Monroe Elementary School Museum. A display panel in an exhibit’s flipbook said that the Topeka School District did not fully integrate until 1999. A staggering thought.

CROWDS (6/10)
We wished that there were been more people at the Site, but realize that Topeka, Kansas is not an A+ tourist destination.

Had there been a large crowd, some of the exhibits could have caused discomfort. A few interactive displays ask the viewer to give their opinions regarding touchy race-related issues, like affirmative action, in not so anonymous ways. Michael was about to enter the Expressions and Reflections room while a group of women were expressing their opinions on a magnet board. They were the only people in that room. When Michael opened the door, they backed away, not willing to own up to their thoughts.

The Site is less than a mile from Interstate 70, Exit 362C. There is no parking lot; you park on the one block stretch of Monroe Street between 15th and 17th Streets. 17th Street was under construction and completely torn up so we had to make a precarious three-point turn on Monroe to exit which is not a good thing because Monroe is a one-way street. We did not realize it was one-way until three blocks later when we were faced with a wave of cars coming towards us. Hopefully things will change before some tourists gets themselves hurt.

The Site introductory room is located in the old Auditorium. Five seven-minute films show the history of segregation and racism in five different sectors of society: War and National Service, How Segregation Came to Be, Civil Rights, Resistance and Education. The multi-media films are impressive but have one large drawback, the screens are placed far too high and at a precipitous angle. We moved on after two films because our necks were sore from looking upward.

The Site has a terrific selection of books regarding the Brown v. Board court case and the legal struggle for civil rights. The remainder of the bookstore, like the museum, spreads itself a little thin. It tries, but does not have a definitive selection of civil rights and African American history books and videos. Some notable books are missing, like Taylor Branch’s Pulitzer Prize winning Parting the Waters. A few PBS VHS tapes are for sale but not the definitive Eyes on the Prize series. (We later learned that Eyes on the Prize is no longer sold becuase of copyright troubles regarding the soundtrack. This legal snafu is tragic for the scores of Americans who won’t see this definitive documentatary.)

Monroe ElementaryCOSTS (4/5)
The site is free.

A volunteer at the Site’s entrance greeted us. She said there would be a Ranger in each room who could answer any of our questions. We did not see any Rangers during our three hour visit except the one in the Gift Store and the one retuning from lunch. We are willing to give the brand new Site the benefit of the doubt.

The Site consists of four rooms that enjoy a wide variant of success: Education and Justice; Race and the American Creed (the Auditorium); The Legacy of Brown v. Board; and Expressions and Reflections.

The Education and Justice room is tremendous and filled with interactive displays. The room tackles the specificities and immediate results of the Supreme Court Case with great depth using a variety of learning methods. The Education and Justice Room is the essence of the NHS. We found the other three rooms to be a bit extraneous.

We spent nearly two hours in Education and Justice Room alone. We watched the five ten-minute documentaries that separately explained the five cases of segregation and the one film that explained how the NAACP combined and argued them before the Supreme Court. A touch-screen computer put you in a segregated classroom and forced you to make decisions as to how you would right the situation.

In order to get to the other half of the Education and Justice Room we had to walk through the Site’s most commanding and dramatic exhibit: a long narrow corridor with large screens mounted on its walls. On the screens is stock 50’s and 60’s era footage of threatening whites protesting integration. They scream racial epithets and other hateful words over the speakers mounted on the corridor’s low ceiling. Bravery and struggle take on new meanings.

FUN (7/10)
It is exciting to visit a new site. This one is a mere two months old. Although still in its infancy, most of the site’s interactive displays are ready for use and use we did. We spent hours watching the Brown v. Board Supreme Court case’s evolution in the Education and Justice Room. We appreciated the use of the school building, complete with miniature water fountains. The school setting was conducive to learning. We walked the halls and changed classes as we moved from one display to the next. Like school, we liked some more than others.

This was definitely the highlight of our day in Topeka. There is construction occurring outside the school – perhaps for a parking lot? There are still some empty shelves in the bookstore, ample space on the first floor and an entire second floor that could be put to use for future exhibits. A trip today to the Brown v. Board NHS is worthwhile. We think exhibits in this site could expand and be enhanced over time. It will be interesting to see it grow.

TOTAL 54/80

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