With more than 200 National Parks now closed to the public, many sites are beginning to do livestream events, bringing their parks to the public during this period of of social separation. I’m going to try and keep track of a running list of these events here and encourage the use of the hashtag #NPSLive to spread the word! All times Eastern.
James A. Garfield National Historic Site | Underground RR Freedom Network
Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area | Circle X Ranch
California National Historic Trail | Echo Information Center, UT
Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail | Echo Information Center, UT
Pony Express National Historic Trail | Echo Information Center, UT
Highlighting this month’s stamps are a set of five new stamps for the U.S. Civil Rights Trail partnership program. The U.S. Civil Rights Trail, which was just launched in 2017, actually has nothing to do with the National Historic Trails that so frequently feature in these regular passport cancellation update blog posts. A National Historic Trail can only be designated by Congress, and must reflect a route whose significance arises from actually being used in history. The U.S. Civil Rights Trail, however, is instead a branding mechanism to encourage both Americans and international tourists to explore the historic legacy of the 20th Century struggle for African-American civil rights in this country.
This program actually originated in an effort by the Obama Administration to identify additional American sites for recognition as World Heritage Sites by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO.) Despite the vast natural, historic, and cultural heritage of the United States, this country currently only has 23 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. That total is tied for just 10th most in the world with Iran, and behind such countries as Italy (#1 with 54 sites), Spain (47 sites), and Mexico (34 sites.) The idea of the US Civil Rights Trail is to connect together all of the significant sites associated with the civil rights movement, that might ultimately become suitable for nomination to be recognized as a World Heritage Site. UNESCO encourages such “serial nominations” that include multiple related and thematically connected locations together as a single “site,” so the concept of the US Civil Rights Trail could well boost the United States’ chances of being so recognized.
Currently, the US Civil Rights Trail actually includes nearly 100 different places in 14 primary destination cities, as well as in dozens of secondary destination cities. Some of the 14 primary destination cities need little introduction to anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the history of the civil rights movement, including Atlanta, Birmingham, Memphis, and Washington. Others included in the 14 primary destination cities may be less familiar. Farmville, Virginia was the site of a school desegregation case that was ultimately rolled into the more famous Brown v. Board of Education case from Topeka, Kansas. Sumner, Mississippi is part of the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area and was the site of the infamous murder of Emmitt Till (January 2017 Parkasaurus). Greensboro, North Carolina was the site of the first sit-in at a Woolworth’s lunch counter.
This month’s batch of new cancellations for the US Civil Rights Trail covers the fully-operational National Park Service sites in the National Park Service’s Southeast Region. The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park in Atlanta, Georgia preserves both the home where the famed civil rights activist grew up and the Church where he first began to preach, and also has a fantastic visitor center. In an innovative approach, the visitor center includes a number of kiosks where you can actually hear the words of Martin Luther King from records of his speeches, and you can wander in and out of them as you browse the exhibits.
Eventually, National Park Service sites that are included in the US Civil Rights Trail, but are located outside the Southeast Region may eventually also request cancellations for the US Civil Rights Trail. As of this writing, that list would include:
Brown v Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka, Kansas;
Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis, Missouri (site of the courthouse where the original trial that became the landmark Supreme Court case Dred Scott v Sanford was argued);
the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC (site of Marian Anderson’s famous concert after she was denied access to Constitution Hall, and of course, of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech (Parkasaurus | March 2015);
Among the other stamps this month is a new cancellation for the Alaska Public Lands Information Center in Anchorage, Alaska which provides information on all sorts of public lands in south-central Alaska. This location had already been a cancellation location for the Iditarod National Historic Trail and for Lake Clark National Park & Preserve. Now it gets a cancellation of its own.
The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area was established in 1978 in suburban Los Angeles as part of the movement to establish urban National Recreation Areas. Like many newer national parks, this area is largely run in partnerships with the state of California, local governments, universities, and private land holders. In fact, the National Park Service actually only controls just a bit more than 23,000 of this park’s nearly 157,000 acres, which is just 15% of the total land. The Circle X Ranch is among those federally-managed parcels of land. The Ranch was formerly a Boy Scout Camp, but now serves as the only National Park Service-managed campground within the park.
The Echo Canyon Information Center is a highway rest area accessible from westbound Interstate 80 in eastern Utah. It formerly had stamps for the California, Mormon Pioneer, and Pony Express National Historic Trails from 2011 until the center temporarily closed in 2016. Now that the center has reopened, it has a new set of Passport cancellations.
Finally, there are are six stamps that have been removed from the list this month.
El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro National Historic Trail | El Camino Real Int’l Heritage Ctr, NM
Trail of Tears National Historic Trail | Junaluska Memorial & Museum, NC
California National Historic Trail | Salt Lake City, UT
Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail | Salt Lake City, UT
Oregon National Historic Trail | Salt Lake City, UT
Pony Express National Historic Trail | Salt Lake City, UT
The El Camino Real Heritage Center in central New Mexico and the Intermountain Region Trails Office are both temporarily closed for rennovations. The Memorial and Museum to Cherokee Chief Junaluska, who fought with Andrew Jackson at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, in Robbinsville, North Carolina was damaged several years ago during severe storms and has been closed indefinitely.
Just one week before leaving office, on January 12, 2017, President Barack Obama proclaimed three new National Monuments under the Antiquities Act, and added those monuments to the National Park System. Two of those National Monuments, Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument and Freedom Riders National Monument, both in central Alabama, will preserve locations associated with the Civil Rights Movement of the mid-1960’s.
Prior to these designations, there were already a handful of National Park Service Units dedicated to the story of the modern Civil Rights Movement in the post-World War II era. Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka, Kansas preserves the story of the pivotal 1954 Supreme Court case that led to nationwide desegregation of the schools. Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site in Arkansas preserves the story of the contentious desegregation effort at that school three years later in 1957.
Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta, Georgia preserves the home where the civil rights leader lived from his birth in 1929 until 1941, as well as the Ebenezer Baptist Church where he would jointly serve as pastor with his father into the 1950’s and 60’s. There is also the relatively new Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial in Washington, DC. In addition, the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC interprets the story of several civil rights moments from history, including the 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legendary “I Have a Dream” speech.
Most notable of the National Park Service sites from this time period, however, is one place that that doesn’t actually count among the 417 units of the National Park System, the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail in Alabama. Despite having two Visitor Centers and being staffed by uniformed National Park Service Rangers, National Historic Trails are not given full national park status. Nonetheless, visitors to the Trail can follow the route of the famous Voting Rights March of March 1965, which were led in part by Martin Luther King, Jr.
National Park Service map of the new Freedom Riders National Monument in and around Anniston, Alabama.The two new sites fill in more of the civil rights timeline between the two school desegregation sites from the 1950’s, and the Voting Rights March in 1965. Freedom Riders National Monument preserves two sites associated with a particular 1961 effort by activists to exercise their right to desegregated facilities in intercity bus service, and the violent effort by desegregation opponents to oppose them. The plan for this “Freedom Ride” was to send a mixed-race group of civil rights activists to ride together on two intercity buses from Washington, DC to New Orleans, Louisiana. The route for that trip would take the riders through much of the Deep South where they knew that tactics of intimidation, sometimes violent intimidation, were used to prevent racial minorities from making use of desegregated facilities.
The first bus was a Greyhound Bus, and when that bus pulled into the town of Anniston in eastern Alabama it was attached by a violent mob that slashed the bus’ tires and broke its windows with rocks. The old Greyhound bus station in Anniston is now one of the two sites that comprise this new national monument.
Eventually, police officers arrived, and they provided an escort for the bus to leave the station – along with an “escort” of protesters from the mob. Two cars from the rioters pulled in front of the bus and slowed down in order to slow the bus’s progress. The bus made it six miles west down Highway 202 towards Birmingham before the slashed tires finally gave out. The bus driver pulled to the side of the road, and the mob descended again, throwing fire bombs into the broken windows of the bus. The Freedom Riders struggled to escape from the burning bus, even as the mob acted to try and prevent them from escaping. Eventually they did break free, and were given some treatment at the Anniston hospital before civil rights leaders from Birmingham were able to arrange their transfer to the Birmingham hospital. A site of nearly 6 acres where the bus burning took place is now the other site comprising this National Monument.
Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument includes a four-and-a-half block area in downtown Birmingham. The only site within the Monument boundaries that will be Federally-owned is the former A. G. Gaston Motel. The Gaston Motel was itself owned by an African-American businessman, and was the best hotel in Birmingham at which the African-American civil rights activists could find accommodations. In the spring of 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr., and other leaders from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference arrived in Birmingham to plan a series of marches and sit-ins to protest segregation in the city.
On April 6, 1963, the first attempt to march on Birmingham City Hall began at the Galston Motel, but ended with the protestors being arrested within three blocks. The next day, a march began at the nearby St. Paul United Methodist Church, but was stopped after just one block in Kelly Ingram Park. Both of those sites are located within the authorized boundaries for the new National Monument.
A few days later, the City of Birmingham obtained an injunction against King and other civil rights leaders prohibiting future marches. Nonetheless, April 12th dawned as Good Friday that year, and the leaders went ahead with a planned march anyways – an act for which they were promptly arrested. It was after this arrest that King wrote his seminal essay, Letter from Birmingham Jail, laying out the philosophical and moral justification for his campaign of nonviolent protest against segregation.
It was in this letter that King wrote the memorable words “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny, whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” These words are now inscribed on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Particularly striking to me, however, is another passage of the Letter in which King addresses his justification for defiantly breaking laws, and thus have led him to the circumstances of writing from within a Birmingham Jail. He starts by reflecting on the Brown v. Board of Education decision, and then invoking principles of moral philosophy and theology.
Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may want to ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all”
For Dr. King, the laws of segregation are unjust because they, quote, “degrade human personality.” The laws of Alabama, and King presumably has in mind here particularly the laws governing protest and assembly, are also unjust because they are not equally applied to the majority and the minority alike, but instead are only applied to the minority. Moreover, King argues that all of these laws were also unjust because they were only enacted as a result of so many blacks having been denied the right to vote. As King writes in his letter, “who can say that the legislature of Alabama, which set up the state’s segregation laws, was democratically elected?”
Having laid out his case for the fundamental injustice of the laws of Alabama, King then turns his attention to one of the great philosophical questions: “what is the role of a just man in an unjust world?” Here King lays out his radical justification for his program of non-violent protest, and for working within the American system rather than to overthrow it. He writes:
In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.
King loved the law, and so he willingly accepted the penalty. This was despite the fact that his fourth child, daughter Bernice, had been born just two weeks earlier. King would ultimately spend nine days in jail, finally being released on April 20th.
After King’s release from prison, the civil rights campaign in Birmingham would continue to escalate. A key turning point was the decision of organizers to use children in the protests to reinvigorate the campaign and advance the goal of drawing national attention to the injustice in Birmingham. Beginning May 2nd, thousands of high school and even elementary students began leaving school to participate in marches. A great many of them would be peacefully arrested. In other cases, the city of Birmingham authorities would escalate the situation by using police dogs and extremely powerful fire hoses to disrupt the marches. By May 5th, some of the African-American crowds that had gathered in Kelly Ingram Park themselves began to turn violent, responding to police violence by throwing rocks and other debris – despite the efforts of civil rights leaders to maintain non-violence. As the crisis continued to escalate, normal business in downtown Birmingham ground to a halt. By May 8, business leaders began calling for desegregation, and by May 10 a political deal was reached to end the crisis, release most of the protesters from jail, and to repeal Birmingham’s segregation ordinances.
As the crisis came to an end, a bomb blast would heavily damage the Galston Motel on the night of May 11, only a few hours after King himself had left. King would then go on to lead the March for Jobs and Freedom in Washington in August of that year. His efforts would lead to passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 in July of that year, and he would receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his advocacy of non-violent protest in October of 1964.