Interior Department Commemorates Black History Month, Reinforces Commitment to Honoring the Legacy and Achievements of the Black Community

Last edited 02/29/2024

Date: Thursday, February 29, 2024

WASHINGTON — The Department of the Interior this month celebrated Black History Month with a series of events and announcements across the nation, reinforcing its commitment to honoring the legacy and achievement of the Black community and highlighting efforts to invest in and protect Black history

“Black history is part of the fabric of America, and it’s up to each of us to learn from it. At the Interior Department, it’s our mission to tell our country’s honest story loud and clear and we are committed to elevating the stories of Black Americans, from the traumatic to the victories, for everyone to experience,” said Secretary Deb Haaland. “This month and every month, we honor the countless contributions and essential perspectives that Black Americans bring to our Department and nation.” 

New Actions and Investments to Honor, Preserve Black History  

The Interior Department today announced that the National Park Service (NPS) will soon launch the John P. Parker House Special Resource Study to evaluate the restored home of abolitionist and entrepreneur John P. Parker in Ripley, Ohio. Special Resource Studies are directed by Congress and require the Department, through the NPS, to evaluate the study location against congressionally established criteria for possible future commemoration or preservation. The NPS will formally launch the process in the coming months with opportunities for the public to engage and provide feedback later this year.   

Earlier this month, Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Shannon Estenoz was in Memphis to announce that the NPS will soon launch another Special Resource Study to evaluate sites associated with eight lynchings that occurred within a 100-mile radius of Memphis, Tennessee, between 1869 and 1940. 

The Department this month also announced five additions to the Reconstruction Era National Historic Network, which was created in 2019 to recognize and amplify sites and programs throughout the country that share stories of freedom, struggle, education and self-determination associated with the period of Reconstruction from 1861 to 1900. NPS Director Sams visited the Reconstruction Era National Historical Park in South Carolina, and highlighted how the network connects sites across the country that provide education, interpretation and research related to the period of Reconstruction. 

Secretary Haaland participated in the 2024 White House Convening on Equity this month, as the Department unveiled its Equity Action Plan, detailing strategic initiatives aimed at advancing equity across its operations and engagements. Rooted in the agency’s core mission to safeguard the nation’s natural resources, steward our lands and waters for future generations, and promote environmental justice, this plan sets forth a roadmap for promoting fairness, transparency and inclusivity in all aspects of the Department’s work. This plan is integral to the Department’s efforts to meet the goals of President Biden’s Executive Order 14091, which charges federal agencies with proactively addressing the systemic barriers that impede equal opportunity for underserved communities. 

Principal Travel to Sites that Honor Black History 

Earlier this month, Secretary Deb Haaland traveled to Virginia, where she and U.S. Representatives Bobby Scott and Jennifer McClellan toured Hampton University to hear about the rich history of the college and its role within the Black community. In 2023, as part of the National Park Service’s Historic Preservation Fund’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) program, the university received a $750,000 grant to support the preservation of the historic Mansion House. 

Under Secretary Haaland and NPS Director Chuck Sams’ leadership, the Department has invested $31 million to identify and restore historic structures on the campuses of HBCUs. These grants work to preserve National Register listed structures on historic HBCU campuses, as well as funding architectural services, historic structure reports, campus preservation plans, and National Register nominations.  

Secretary Haaland and Representative McClellan visited Fort Monroe National Monument, known as “Freedom’s Fortress.” The national monument was designated by President Barack Obama and has a diverse history, including as the site of the first arrival of enslaved Africans in English North America in 1619; a safe haven for freedom seekers during the American Civil War; and a bastion of defense for the Chesapeake Bay through the 21st Century. In Richmond, they toured the Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site. Maggie Lena Walker devoted her life to civil rights advancement, economic empowerment, and educational opportunities for Jim Crow-era African Americans and women. Today, Walker’s home in Richmond’s Jackson Ward National Historic Landmark District is preserved by the National Park Service as a tribute to her enduring legacy of vision, courage and determination.  

During her visit to Tennessee this month, Assistant Secretary Estenoz joined local leaders to celebrate Black History Month and highlight the Department’s ongoing work to invest in equitable access to the outdoors for all. In Nashville, Assistant Secretary Estenoz visited Fisk University to highlight the Department’s commitment to preserving HBCUs. During both visits, Assistant Secretary Estenoz met with city leaders and community members as part of a new nationwide tour to hear directly from local stakeholders on the need to connect urban and historically marginalized communities with access to the outdoors and encourage state participation in the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership (ORLP) program.  

The ORLP program, established in 2014, is a nationally competitive, matching grant program that aids disadvantaged, urban communities that lack access to close-by outdoor recreation. Funds can be used for the acquisition and development of, or substantial renovation of, public parks and other outdoor recreation spaces in urban areas. Through the program, the Department is advancing the Biden-Harris administration's America the Beautiful initiative, a locally led, voluntary conservation and restoration effort that aims to address the nature and climate crises, improve equitable access to the outdoors, and strengthen the economy. 

Yesterday, NPS Director Sams closed out the Department’s celebration of Black History Month with a visit to the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site. Commonly referred to as Cedar Hill, the park is anchored by the house that Fredrick Douglass called home from 1877 until his passing in 1895. During his time at Cedar Hill, Douglass continued to be an activist for Black freedom and rights. 


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