Open Spaces: Black History Conserved by Wildlife Refuges

Black History Conserved by Wildlife Refuges

By Susan Morse, USFWS

February is Black History Month. What are some natural places to celebrate your heritage?

National wildlife refuges.

Surprised? Don’t be. National wildlife refuges help protect our nation’s history as well as our natural heritage!

bombay-hookClouds float over a marsh at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, which is believed to have been a key transit point on the underground railroad. (Photo: Tim Williams/USFWS)

Consider these stops on a refuge-based African American history tour:

Got your interest? Here’s a bit more.

At Great Dismal Swamp Refuge, archeologists are studying maroon settlement sites occupied for two centuries by escaped slaves and their descendants. You can’t reach the remote dig sites. But you can take a boardwalk trail to a new pavilion with interpretive panels telling how runaways survived the swamp’s heat and venomous snakes.

In 2004 the refuge was named part of the National Park Service’s Underground Railroad Network to Freedom because the swamp offered some an escape, however treacherous, from slavery.

In Maryland’s Dorchester County, you can sample a host of events next month celebrating Harriet Tubman. The Underground Railroad hero freed some 70 people from slavery, relying on her knowledge of the area's woodlands and swamps. Blackwater Refuge protects much of the landscape that formed Tubman’s early experience.

At Waccamaw Refuge in South Carolina, you can learn about the “Gullah” community along the refuge boundary on Sandy Island, where freed slaves and their descendants were deeded land after the Civil War. They produced rice, in what was one of the first African-American-owned businesses in South Carolina. Islanders still schedule their lives by the tide. They commute to work by private boat. The only state-owned school boat in South Carolina takes local children to local schools.

At Bombay Hook Refuge in Delaware, you can see the marshes off Bombay Hook Island where fugitive slaves reportedly hid to board boats for New Jersey. You can also hear about a rebellion at the Whitehall Plantation – on what is now refuge land − fueled by Whitehall slaves.

At Holt Collier Refuge in Mississippi, you can learn about the refuge’s namesake: a man born into slavery who became a soldier, a Texas cowboy and a hunter who felled more than 3,000 bears – more than the number killed by Daniel Boone and Davy Crocket combined.

Take pride in your heritage. Let us know what you think of your visit: http://www.facebook.com/USFWSRefuges

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Last updated: June 21, 2012