Black History Month Hits the Outdoors How African-American Contributions have shaped the Great Outdoors in Hampton Roads
A large number of African-Americans are responsible for many incredible contributions that have shaped outdoor recreation in our country. The First Landing State Park at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront was developed 1933 by a group of African-Americans working for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).
Only one percent out of the 280 million annual visitors to National Parks are African-Americans, yet so much of the park system was created or improved with the help of African-Americans. Between 1933 and 1943, more than 200,000 African-American men joined the CCC to work on the preservation of our country’s natural and historical resources, such as Fist Landing State Park.
Today, several African-American groups are encouraging members of the community who embrace outdoor recreation. The largest of these groups is Outdoor Afro, based out of San Francisco. Outdoor Afro’s mission statement is to “disrupt the false perception that black people do not have a relationship with nature.” The organization also aims to stimulate African-American participation in the outdoors.
Oprah decided in 2010 to see what camping was like and share it with the world. When a National Park Service Ranger sent her a letter stating that only one percent of park visitors annually are African-American, Oprah came to the rescue and set out to go camping. First, she went to an outfitter specializing in outdoor equipment to gather supplies then headed for Yosemite National Park. Oprah thoroughly enjoyed the experience saying “Just the beauty of the park. Everything about it is spectacular…being surrounded by the cathedral of stone. Now I want to see all the other National Parks.”
Last year on National Trails Day, June 2, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) teamed up with the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park to lead an African-American History Hike. Participants were guided along a one-mile route that began at the ATC’s Visitor Center in Harper’s Ferry. The hike consisted of various educational discussions, including the famous abolitionist John Brown’s raid of the Harpers Ferry Federal Armory, the creation of Storer College, one of our nation’s first higher learning institutions open to African-Americans and the Niagara Movement, a civil rights organization founded in 1905 that aimed to eliminate racial segregation.
When enjoying nature and the fresh air, take a moment to reflect on those who worked tirelessly to create such a place of beauty. African-Americans have worked to preserve a place for future generations in the great outdoors. We take time in February, during Black history month, to reflect on the African-American volunteers of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Adventure on!
By: Brian Savage and Adam Wood