One of the newest national parks is the Carter G. Woodson Home National Historic Site, located in Washington, DC’s historically African-American Shaw Neighborhood. Carter Woodson is the founder of Negro History Week, which today we celebrate as African-American History Month.
Of course, it is one thing to establish a national park, it is another thing to make it open to the public. The house was in pretty bad shape when the National Park Service acquired it and saved it from the wrecking ball. This close up shot of the front door is illustrative of the general condition of things:
Thus, even though Carter G. Woodson Home NHS became the 390th Unit of the National Park System back in February 2006*, it has pretty much been closed to visitation ever since. That has made the claim of “visiting” this national park something of a philosophical question ever since then. For many, the most that could be reasonably expected for a visit has been simply standing on the front stoop, and checking out the small exhibit on Carter Woodson at the nearby Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site. Beyond that, another option is that with a little planning ahead, the National Park Service has begun offering some very interesting walking tours of the neighborhood.
I was actually lucky enough, however, to get a relatively rare “sneak peak” inside the home before the National Park Service had had any opportunity to do any restoration work. Suffice to say, it wasn’t much to look at:
…and then there is this look down the main hallway – where the ceiling was literally falling in!
Anyhow, the good news to come out this past week is that Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who is the District of Columbia’s non-voting representative in Congress, and who led the charge for establishing this national park, has announced that the park will be ready to open in August 2015. The opening of the park will include the house itself, as well as the two homes immediately adjacent to the historic home, which are being converted by the National Park Service into a full-fledged visitor center for the park. The opening will also be a fitting way to mark the centennial of Dr. Woodson founding the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915.
Although I’m not actually aware of any plans in this regard, that may actually open an opportunity for this site to also serve as the visitor center for the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House NHS, which is only a few blocks away. Right now, visitor services for that site are crammed into a downstairs room within the house itself. Indeed, given that Carter Woodson and Mary McLeod Bethune were contemporaries of each other in the greater Logan Circle neighborhood of Washington, DC, it might be intriguing for Congress to consider down the road merging the two national park sites into a single “Washington African-American Heritage National Historical Park” that would tell the broader story of the path to civil rights for African-Americans living in the nation’s capitol in the earlier 20th Century.
At any rate, this is certainly good news for anyone trying to offficially visit all of the national parks. I’ll have to consider writing a future post on national parks that are closed to the public. In the meantime, hopefully this announcement means that signs like this will be soon be a thing of the past:
* – As an interesting historical footnote, the very day that the NPS acquired the Carter Woodson Home, thus making it an “official” national park (albeit not open to the public), President George W. Bush used the Antiquities Act to establish the African Burial Ground National Monument in New York City as the 391st national park on the same day. The significance of the “lost history” of the African Burial Ground in colonial New York City becoming a national park on the same day as a national park dedicated to the founder of African-American History Month was established was certainly in the front of everyone’s minds who were involved in that designation.Share this Parkasaurus post: