Parks and Wilderness Bills: S 1802 and HR 685



STATEMENT OF STEPHEN E. WHITESELL,

ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, PARK PLANNING, FACILITIES, AND LANDS,

NATIONAL PARK SERVICE,

DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR,

BEFORE THE

SENATE ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES SUBCOMMITTEE

ON NATIONAL PARKS CONCERNING S. 1802 AND H.R. 685,

BILLS TO REQUIRE A STUDY OF THE FEASIBILITY

OF ESTABLISHING THE UNITED STATES CIVIL RIGHTS TRAIL SYSTEM.

May 19, 2010

Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to present the Department of the Interior's views on S. 1802 and H.R. 685, legislation to require a study of the feasibility of establishing the United States Civil Rights Trail System.

The Department supports S. 1802 as introduced, and H.R. 685 as passed by the House, which are substantially identical.However, we feel that priority should be given to the 45 previously authorized studies for potential units of the National Park System, potential new National Heritage Areas, and potential additions to the National Trails System and National Wild and Scenic River System that have not yet been transmitted to Congress.

S. 1802 and H.R. 685 authorize the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a special resource study in order to evaluate a range of alternatives for protecting and interpreting the sites associated with the movement to secure racial equality for African-Americans in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s, including alternatives for potential additions to the National Trails System.We estimate that the cost of this study will range from $500,000 to $750,000, given the large number of sites across multiple states which must be included in the study

The struggle for civil rights has been a hallmark in the development of the United States from its earliest fight for independence from Great Britain during the 1770s and 1780s through the passage of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act guaranteeing all Americans the right to vote and prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.The movement leading up to the passage of the Act was filled with violent confrontations that challenged the very foundation of our country, yet it also represented the highest aspirations of its citizens.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the most comprehensive civil rights legislation in the history of the United States and its provisions serve as major themes of the civil rights story both before and after the Act's passage.The Department recognizes that events, places, and individuals important in the civil rights story should be celebrated and commemorated in a way that helps the public understand and appreciate the significance of the era.Many civil rights-related sites have been identified and are currently recognized within the National Park System, the National Trails System, and as National Historic Landmarks, such as those commemorating the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. and well-known events such as the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School and the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery Voting Rights March.

In 1999, Congress authorized the Secretary to conduct a theme study related to civil rights sites on a multi-state level.The National Park Service, in partnership with the Organization of American Historians, prepared the civil rights framework study to assist the National Park Service in identifying and prioritizing those areas of history significant in illustrating the civil rights story.The study, Civil Rights In America: A Framework for Identifying Significant Sites, was transmitted to Congress on June 2, 2009.

The study identified broad themes within the civil rights story, as well as the events, persons, and places that represent those themes, and assessed the degree to which related sites are represented and recognized.These themes include equal education, public accommodation, voting, housing, equal employment, criminal injustice, immigrant rights, and American Indian civil rights.The study did not assess the feasibility or suitability of inclusion of particular sites into the National Trails System, the National Park System, or as National Historic Landmarks.S. 1802 and H.R. 685 would allow the National Park Service to assess sites specifically associated with the struggle for African-American racial equality from 1954-1968, which touches on most, but not all, of these broad themes.

The study also recommended that the National Park Service complete four National Historic Landmark theme studies to recognize, promote, and protect civil rights-related sites and their relationship to the civil rights story's chronology, historic themes, and how various minorities are represented.National Historic Landmark theme studies are an effective way of assessing whether or not places are nationally significant in American history.They provide a historic context within which to evaluate properties, and identify places that should be studied for national designation.

S. 1802 and H.R. 685 both provide for the proposed study to build upon this and other existing studies and reports.If enacted, this legislation can serve as a keystone piece in the ongoing work of understanding the issues, preserving the place, and telling the stories of the struggle to ensure civil rights for all Americans.

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my testimony. I would be glad to answer any questions that you or other members of the subcommittee may have.