Gettysburg Confederate monuments to get new panels to offer more historical context

Lee at Gettysburg

Here is Nolan Simmons at Penn Live:

Panels will soon be installed near each of 12 Confederate state monuments at Gettysburg National Military Park to offer visitors more context to understand when and under what circumstances they were erected.

The National Park Service expects the panels to be added by September. They will be located near the Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tenessee, Texas and Virginia state monuments.

This move is partially a response by the park service to the recent national conversations about what should be done with Confederate monuments across the country, said acting spokesman Jason Martz.

A fake social media post, advertising plans by Antifa to burn flags at the National Cemetery at Gettysburg on July 4, drew dozens of armed people to the battlefield with the intention of thwarting any such protest. The initial post was later revealed to be a hoax.

While that incident bolstered the conversation, the decision to install the contextual panels has been in the works since earlier in the summer, Martz said — since calls for racial equality spurred by the death of George Floyd came to encompass a discussion about monuments that glorify those who fought in support of slavery.

Scott Hancock, a professor of Africana Studies at Gettysburg College who lives near the battlefield, has argued that the monuments tell a one-sided story that ignores the flaws of those memorialized, and the historical context in which they were erected.

The panels are a sort of middle-ground solution for the park.

Read the entire piece here.

What about the Confederate monuments at Gettysburg?

Alabama monument

Confederate statues are coming down all over the United States. But what should we do about these monuments at Civil War battlefields like Gettysburg National Military Park?

Nolan Simmons of PennLive (Harrisburg Patriot-News) talked with some local historians, including two award-winning teachers–Scott Hancock of Gettysburg College and Kevin Wagner of Carlisle Area (PA) High School.

A taste:

Hancock says he would support removing Confederate monuments from Gettysburg if they continue to exist without context, as they do today. But he would rather see the park teach visitors about the history of the monuments and use them as a tool to educate people about the systems of white supremacy the Confederacy fought to protect.

“In Richmond, if you’re driving by that statue, you’re not going to stop and read signs or listen to an interpreter, but people come to the Gettysburg battlefield to learn,” Hancock said. “This is a wonderful opportunity to instruct people about our history in a more comprehensive way.”

Kevin Wagner, history teacher and program chair for social studies at the Carlisle Area School District, uses these representations of difficult moments in history as tools to teach what he calls “hard history.”

In his class, Wagner has students study the history of statues of Abraham Lincoln, including the Emancipation Memorial on display in Washington, D.C. The statue features Lincoln standing over a freed African-American who is kneeling with broken shackles around his wrists.

The statue is currently the focus of a petition that calls for its removal, citing its “degrading racial undertones.” But Wagner says that people would feel differently if they knew the history of the statue itself.

“That statue was paid for entirely by freed slaves with pennies and nickels and dimes,” Wagner said. “There needs to be a contextualization, or let’s add a marker beside it that explains the backstory. Any piece of art, much like a monument, is open to interpretation unless you know what the real story is.”

Read the entire piece here.

Listen to Hancock talk about race in America in Episode 70 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

What is Happening to History at Our National Parks?

history-of-park-road-header-960x450

Harry Butowsky spent more than three decades working for the National Park Service as a historian. Here is a taste of his recent op-ed at National Parks Traveler:

While overall employment in the agency has dropped by 3,500,or 16 percent, since 2011, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, the number of historians in the Park Service has taken a much greater hit, percentage-wise, dropping from 449 in 2010 to just 149 today, a loss of two-thirds.

Experienced professionals are retiring and not being replaced. Congress and the administration continue to add more parks and cut funding and staffing at the same time. We cannot do more with less. We can only do less. This lack of leadership is reflected in many offices, including that of chief historian of the National Park Service, a position that was downgraded after the 2015 departure of Robert Sutton from at a GS 15 to a GS 14 position.

The lack of staff service-wide demands the chief historian develop a well-thought-out and coordinated strategy to work with the parks and regional historians. National Parks Traveler has tried for more than a month to interview Chief Historian Turkiya L. Lowe for her thoughts on the current state of the Park Service’s historic interpretation mission but has been put off.

Recently, in an op-ed written by Theresa Pierno, president and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association, and Phil Francis, chair of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, the two noted that no one is at the helm of Park Service. In the column they pointed out that in the three years since President Trump took the oath of office the lack of permanent leaders in this administration remains alarming and unprecedented. No administration in recent history has had as many vacancies this far into a term. The lack of permanence at the top of these agencies means the nation is lacking established leaders in critical positions in our government — without the expertise and guidance the American people deserve.

Read the rest here.

Ring a Bell on August 25, 2019 to Honor the First Africans to Land in English America

Church bell

The National Park service is calling for a national “day of healing” on August 25 to “honor the first Africans who landed in 1619 at Point Comfort and 400 years of African American history.”  A commemoration will take place at Fort Monroe National Monument in Hampton Virginia on the 25th. The staff of that site is inviting all 419 national parks and the general public to ring bells for four minutes–one for each century of the African-American experience.

Here is a taste of the National Park Service announcement:

Bells are symbols of freedom.

They are rung for joy, sorrow, alarm, and celebration…universal concepts in each of our lives. This symbolic gesture will enable Americans from all walks of life to participate in this historic moment from wherever they are–to capture the spirit of healing and reconciliation while honoring the significance of 400 years of African American history and culture.

Since its establishment on August 25, 1916, the National Park Service has cared for extraordinary historic and cultural sites that are pivotal parts of the American narrative. Parks and our programs can be places of healing and reconciliation. As we gather at parks on this day across the country to commemorate the landing of enslaved Africans 400 years ago, we honor this powerful moment in American history and the significance of four centuries of African American history and culture.

Find a Bell

Your bell could be big, small, old, or new. It could be lots of little bells, one church bell, or a carillon. Be creative as you create a moment that has personal meaning, power, and resonance for you and your group. 

Make your connection–explore the messaging above about the symbolism of bells. Does your site feature a bell? Share a picture or story about a historic bell, maybe the bell of a ship, on a writing desk, in the collection, in a building, in transportation. What does your bell symbolize? Joy, work, celebration, time, education, technology? Can you connect it to the concept of healing and reconciliation?

Plan Your Event

The nationwide bell ringing will take place at 3:00 p.m. EDT on August 25, 2019, the 400th anniversary. Choose a location that accommodates your audience comfortably and, ideally, is a place that has a connection to your group or community’s unique story. You may want to gather a few minutes early to be sure you’re ready at 3:00 p.m. EDT.

Read the entire announcement here.

A quick Google search reveals that churches and denominations will taking-up the National Park Service’s call, including The Episcopal Church, USA.

Will evangelical churches ring their bells on August 25th?  I hope so.  But this might be difficult since most evangelical megachurches do not have church bells or steeples.  🙂

The National Park Service is Diverting Millions to Help Pay for Trump’s July 4th Campaign Rally

tank+in+dc

According to Washington Post report, $2.5 million “intended to improve parks across the country” will be diverted to cover the costs of Trump’s Independence Day celebration on the Washington D.C. Mall.

Here is a taste of the Post reporting:

The National Park Service is diverting nearly $2.5 million in entrance and recreation fees primarily intended to improve parks across the country to cover costs associated with President Trump’s Independence Day celebration Thursday on the Mall, according to two individuals familiar with the arrangement.

Trump administration officials have consistently refused to say how much taxpayers will have to pay for the expanded celebration on the Mall this year, which the president has dubbed the “Salute to America.” The two individuals, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, confirmed the transfer of the Park Service funds Tuesday.

The diverted park fees represent just a fraction of the extra costs the government faces as a result of the event, which will include displays of military hardware, flyovers by an array of jets including Air Force One, the deployment of tanks on the Mall and an extended pyrotechnics show. By comparison, according to former Park Service deputy director Denis P. Galvin, the entire Fourth of July celebration on the Mall typically costs the agency about $2 million.

For Trump’s planned speech at the Lincoln Memorial, the White House is distributing VIP tickets to Republican donors and political appointees, prompting objections from Democratic lawmakers who argue that the president has turned the annual celebration into a campaign-like event.

The Republican National Committee and Trump’s reelection campaign confirmed Tuesday that they had received passes they were handing out for the event.

“We’ve never seen anything like this,” Sen. Tom Udall (N.M.), the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the interior, environment and related agencies, said in a phone interview. “No ticketed political event should be paid for with taxpayer dollars.”

The White House referred questions about the celebration to the Interior Department, which declined to comment.

Read the rest here.

Historians Urge the Passing of the Reconstruction Era National Historical Park Act

Reconstruction

Historians Gregory Downs and Kate Masur urge Congress to pass the Reconstruction Era National Historical Park Act.  Here is a taste of their recent piece at The New York Times:

Many contemporary controversies over issues like voting rights and the scope of the government have their origins in the period following the Civil War. That era, known as Reconstruction, is one of the most contentious in this nation’s history, and also one of the most misunderstood.

Congress can help fix that by passing the Reconstruction Era National Historical Park Act before the end of the year. The bill, passed by the House in September and now under consideration in the Senate, would empower the National Park Service to connect Reconstruction sites all around the country; encourage visitors to talk about Reconstruction at local historical sites; and help convey the full story of how America was remade after the Civil War.

Reconstruction started in the early days of the Civil War. As United States forces entered the South, enslaved African Americans immediately pressed for freedom. They escaped to Union lines, demanded pay for their work, petitioned for their rights and served the Union war effort as laborers and soldiers. Some four million African Americans built new lives in freedom during the postwar Reconstruction era — reuniting families separated by slavery, building churches, founding schools and serving in government.

From 1865 to 1870, Congress passed, and the states ratified, the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, which permanently transformed the country. These Republican-led initiatives promised freedom, citizenship, due process and equal protection to everyone on American soil, and also prohibited racial discrimination in voting. These constitutional changes were so momentous that, in 2017, President Barack Obama called Reconstruction the nation’s Second Founding.

Read the rest here.

The National Park Service and American Amnesia About Reconstruction

Recon
Check out Maura Ewing’s piece at Pacific Standard on the ways the National Park Service is bring the Reconstruction Era to the forefront of America’s historical consciousness. Here is a taste:

During the restive years following the Civil War, the Era of Reconstruction—often referred to as the nation’s Second Founding or the first Civil Rights Movement—America saw a virulent backlash from white supremacists in response to profound political, economic, and educational gains made by African Americans. During these years, more African Americans held office than at any other period in American history; in 2014 Tim Scott became the first African-American United States Senator elected in South Carolina since Reconstruction. Newly freed slaves established churches, schools, and businesses, and negotiated labor contracts with their former owners. Simultaneously, the period saw the re-emergence of the Ku Klux Klan, which used violence to impose a race-based social order where law no longer did; black codes were created to suppress African-American freedom, and segregation was institutionalized. White supremacists lynched an average of two to three African Americans weekly.

In more recent years, a somewhat unlikely agency—the National Park Service—has stepped up to consider how and whether to mark this period by way of national historic sites. In July the NPS released a report, the product of two years of commissioned academic research, detailing what events and locations should be marked for their historic significance relative to the Reconstruction era. It is a call for communities to take the next step and erect markers, with the agency’s support. The NPS’s ambition to have events of this era designated as National Historic Landmarks could have a great effect on the public’s understanding of racism’s pervasive roots in this country—a bold, and important, move for an agency that only recently began to take on the racial complexities of the Civil War.

Read the entire piece here.

 

The National Park Service Responds to Charlottesville

Arlington_House_front_view

In the days following the events at Charlottesville, the National Park Service made a change to its description of Arlington House, Robert E. Lee’s pre-Civil War home that now looks over Arlington National Cemetery.  Here is a taste of Russell Berman’s piece at The Atlantic:

As of August 4, according to a cache of the page accessed through archive.org, the Park Service described the Lee Memorial this way:

The Robert E. Lee Memorial honors Lee’s military and public leadership in pre- and post-Civil War America. Congress designated the memorial to recognize that “the desire and hope of Robert E. Lee for peace and unity within our Nation has come to pass.” From the portico you can contemplate our nation’s fate as you gaze across the river that once divided us.

The language now is different. The description lessens the focus on the memorial as a celebration of Lee and places it in a slightly more neutral context. It makes a new reference to “the most difficult aspects of American history,” including slavery:

Arlington House is the nation’s memorial to Robert E. Lee. It honors him for specific reasons, including his role in promoting peace and reunion after the Civil War. In a larger sense it exists as a place of study and contemplation of the meaning of some of the most difficult aspects of American History: military service; sacrifice; citizenship; duty; loyalty; slavery and freedom.

In a statement, the Park Service acknowledged it made the change this week but did not directly attribute it to the events in Charlottesville and the ensuing public debate over Confederate memorials.

“It is our mission to provide historical context that reflects a fuller view of past events and the values under which they occurred, and the update was made in that spirit,” the Park Service said. “The National Park Service is committed to sharing our nation’s history inclusively and holistically, and we have elicited scholars’ advice on how to present, more completely, the experience of those who were enslaved at Arlington House. Their stories will be prominently featured when the rehabilitation of the house, slave quarters, gardens, and exhibits is complete.”

Read the rest here.

Are National Parks Overused?

Yosemite_National_Park

Yosemite National Park (Wikimedia Commons)

This article by journalist Jim Robbins at the website of the Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies argues that so many Americans are visiting U.S. National Parks that they may be in jeopardy.

Here is a taste:

If these were not national parks, the solution would be to keep building more infrastructure. But the National Park Service has a dual mandate from Congress: to “provide for the enjoyment in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” Wider roads and more hotels and campgrounds would only create sprawl, diminish the experience of nature, and encourage yet more people to come.

This crowding comes at an uncertain time for the parks. President Trump has proposed cutting the Park Service budget by 13 percent (which would be the largest cut to the agency since World War II), and there is already a backlog of staffing and maintenance issues.  And there is concern that the Trump Administration might move to make the parks even more friendly to commercial interests that would look bring in more visitors and more development. 

The visitor crush is creating two main problems – a steep decline in the quality of visitor experience that a national park is supposed to provide, and damaging impacts on the ecology of these intact natural places.

Read the entire piece here.

Now Trump is Going After National Monuments

Bears Ears

He wants to make sure that national monuments designated in the past twenty-one years conform to the 1906 Antiquities Act.  The act, which was signed into law by Teddy Roosevelt, gives the President the authority to create national monuments from federal lands to protect the land’s natural or cultural resources.

Here is the pertinent section (2) of the Antiquities Act:

The President of the United States is authorized, in his discretion, to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments, and may reserve as a part thereof parcels of land, the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected. When such objects are situated upon a tract covered by a bona fide unperfected claim or held in private ownership, the tract, or so much thereof as may be necessary for the proper care and management of the object, may be relinquished to the Government, and the Secretary of the Interior is hereby authorized to accept the relinquishment of such tracts in [sic] behalf of the Government of the United States.

Apparently Utah conservatives were not happy when Barack Obama used the Act late in his administration (December 2016) to create the Bears Ears National Monument.

Here is a taste of a Salt Lake City Tribune article on Trump’s latest attempt to wipe Barack Obama from the face of history:

While no president has attempted to withdraw a monument named by a predecessor, there have been those who have scaled back those designations.

For his part, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has pressed Trump for action on the Bears Ears declaration and visited the area last week.

“For years, I have fought every step of the way to ensure that our lands are managed by the Utahns [who] know them best and cherish them deeply,” Hatch said in a statement Sunday night.  “That’s why I’m committed to rolling back the egregious abuse of the Antiquities Act to serve far-left special interests.  As part of this commitment, I have leveraged all of my influence—from private meetings in the Oval Office in the president’s first week in office to my latest trip to Bears Ears this week–to ensure that this issue is a priority on the president’s agenda.”

Environmental groups quickly raised concerns that Trump was acting without looking at the reasons that Obama used the 1906 Antiquities Act to preserve the 1.35 million acres of Bears Ears….

“Utah’s national monuments are our first line of defense against the very real specter of climate change, providing resiliency to not only the species within them, but also to nearby communities,” said Jen Ujifusa, legislative director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  “President Trump and the Utah delegation should focus their energies on solving America’s challenges, rather than unraveling the solutions that are already working.”

Josh Ewing, executive director of the Friends of Cedar Mesa, which along with an American Indian tribal coalition had pushed for the monument declaration, said he welcomes the review because, if done correctly, it will show the need for protection of the  area.

Read the entire article here.

 

National Parks Contributed $34.9 Billion to the U.S. Economy in 2016

It’s National Park Week and the U.S. Department of the Interior has some good news to report.

Here is a taste:

SAN FRANCISCO – Today, during National Park Week, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced that 2016’s record visitation of 331 million visitors at America’s 417 National Park Service sites contributed $34.9 billion to the U.S. economy in 2016 – a $2.9 billion increase from 2015. Zinke made his announcement while visiting the historic Presidio of San Francisco at Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Zinke marked Park Week by also visiting Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, and Channel Islands national parks.

According to the annual peer-reviewed economics report, 2016 National Park Visitor Spending Effects, the strong economic output is attributed to record visitation and $18.4 billion that visitors spent in “gateway” communities near national park entrances. The report also found that visitor spending supported 318,000 jobs in 2016, with the vast majority of them defined as local jobs, including those in the hospitality, retail, transportation and recreation industries.

“National Parks are America’s treasure which provide magnificent outdoor recreation opportunities and serve as economic engines for local communities. In my own hometown of Whitefish, Montana, I saw how the popularity of Glacier National Park led to growth of the local outdoor rec and eco-tourism industry. And while traveling to Sequoia and Kings Canyon last week it was exciting to see tourism towns dotting the road to the park,” Zinke said. “This report is a testament to the tangible economic benefits our parks bring to communities across the nation. Visitation numbers continue to rise because people want to experience these majestic public lands.”

Zinke continued, “With continued record visitation it’s time to start thinking about accessibility and infrastructure. Last week, it was great to see the team at Yosemite opening up areas with new wheelchair accessible trails. In the coming years, we will look at ways to make innovative investments in our parks to enhance visitor experiences and improve our aging infrastructure. To ensure visitors continue to have great experiences, we will remain focused on increasing access and addressing the maintenance backlog to ensure we are on the right track for generations to come.”

More than 270,000 of the jobs supported by visitor spending in 2016 exist in the communities that lie within 60 miles of a park. These range from big parks like Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina, which attracted 11.3 million people and supported more than 14,600 jobs, to smaller parks like Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in New Hampshire that attracted more than 42,000 visitors and supported 34 jobs.

“National parks like Yellowstone, Zion, and Gettysburg connect us with nature and help tell America’s story,” said Michael T. Reynolds, acting director of the National Park Service. “They are also a vital part of our nation’s economy, drawing hundreds of millions of visitors every year who fill the hotels and restaurants, hire the outfitters and rely on other local businesses that help drive a vibrant tourism and outdoor recreation industry.”

Visitor spending in 2016 supported 318,000 jobs, provided $12.0 billion in labor income, $19.9 billion in value added, and $34.9 billion in economic output to the U.S. economy. The lodging sector provided the highest direct contributions with $5.7 billion in economic output to local gateway economies and 56,000 jobs. The restaurants and bars sector provided the next greatest direct contributions with $3.7 billion in economic output to local gateway economies and 71,000 jobs.

Read the entire report here.  Many of these parks are history-related.  Let’s hope they are still around in four years.

 

History in the National Parks Forum at Rutgers-Camden

Cabin at Valley Forge National Historic Park
This looks like a great forum.  Speakers include:
Lu Ann Jones, Staff Historian at the National Park Service Parks History Program

Barbara Pollarine, Chief, Interpretation, Education, and Partnerships,Northeast Region, National Park Service; former Assistant Superintendent, Valley Forge National Historical Park.

Wayne Bodle, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, author of The Valley Forge Winter: Civilians and Soldiers at War (Penn State Press, 2004).

Marty Blatt, Boston National Historical Park and a past president of the National Council on Public History, co-editor of Hope & Glory: Essays on the Legacy of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment (University of Massachusetts Press, 2009).

Renee Albertoli, Independence National Historical Park

Charlene Mires, Rutgers-Camden, author of Independence Hall in American Memory (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002)

Seth Bruggeman, Temple University, author of Here, George Washington Was Born: Memory, Material Culture, and the Public History of a National Monument (University of Georgia Press, 2008) and editor of Born in the U.S.A.: Birth, Commemoration, and American Public Memory (University of Massachusetts Press, 2012) will provide closing comments, History as a Pillar of Civic Life.
A forum co-sponsored by the National Park Service, Northeast Region; The Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities (MARCH) at Rutgers-Camden; and Rutgers-Camden Department of History.  Register now.
Rutgers-Camden Campus Center
Wednesday, November 6, 1:30-5 p.m.
(Career program for students preceding, 12:20-1 p.m.)
How is the presentation of history changing in our national parks? How do all of us – visitors, park professionals, scholars, and students – work together to shape a complex yet accessible understanding of the nation’s history?
In 2011, a report titled “Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Parks” issued a call to action. Produced through a collaboration of the Organization of American Historians and the National Park Service, the report highlighted the best of historical practice in the national parks but also called for the parks to “recommit to history as one of its core purposes and invest in building a top-flight program of historical research and interpretation that will foster consistently effective and integrated historic preservation and robust, place-based visitor engagement with history.” In this spirit, the goal of this forum is to build awareness and collaboration for the future of history in the national parks. By focusing on one case study of change through scholarship and partnership – Valley Forge National Historical Park – we will gain a deeper appreciation for history as a pillar of civic life.
This program is open to the public. Advance registration information and materials for use by attendees, students, and teachers, will be provided online at least one month in advance on the website of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities: http://march.rutgers.edu

Save Wounded Knee

Wounded Knee, the site where hundreds of Lakota Indians were killed in a “battle” with the United States Army’s 7th Cavalry in 1890, is for sale.  The price tag is $3.9 million.  Joseph Brings Plenty, a former chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and a teacher of Lakota culture, explains how this historic site fell into private hands and urges the United States to purchase the land and turn it into a national park.  Here is a taste of his op-ed at The New York Times:

Now, our heritage is in danger of becoming a real-estate transaction, another parcel of what once was our land auctioned off to the highest bidder. The cries of our murdered people still echo off the barren hills — the cries we remember in our hearts every day of our lives. But they may finally be drowned out by bulldozers and the ka-ching of commerce.
The Wounded Knee site passed from the Oglala into private hands through the process known as allotment, begun in the late 1800s, by which the federal government divided land among the Indians and gave other parcels to non-Indians. The idea was to shift control of our land from the collective to the individual and to teach the Lakota and other Native Americans the foreign notion of ownership. But to us, the policy was just another form of theft.
The private owner of the Wounded Knee site, who has held title to the 40-acre plot since 1968, wants to sell it for $3.9 million. If the Oglala of Pine Ridge don’t buy it by May 1, it will be sold at auction.
The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is one of the poorest places in the United States, and the Oglala, who are deeply in debt, would be hard-pressed to meet the price. Many elders properly ask why any price should be paid at all. The federal government should buy this land and President Obama should then preserve it as a national monument — just as he did last month at five federally owned sites around the country, including one in Maryland honoring Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad.
The massacre site has great meaning not just for the Lakota but for all First Nations — and every American. Wounded Knee should remain a sacred site where the voices of the Ghost Dancers, who more than a century ago danced for the return of our old way of life, still echo among the pines, where the spirits of our elders still walk the hills, and where “takini” still has meaning: the survival of our collective memory.