Black Church to National Park Service: Give Us Stones of Remembrance

Black denominational leaders have formally asked for a national monument to the 1908 Springfield race riot, and a new national survey reveals more public lands Black clergy want memorialized.

In Lower Manhattan, people in suits pass by a green space with a modest stone monument on their way to the city’s big courthouses. They rarely stop to notice the African Burial Ground National Monument, marking the historic site where more than 15,000 Africans were buried when the city banned slave funerals and burials from church cemeteries.

The burial ground was discovered during a construction project in 1991 and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1993. Yet it took more than a decade of political pushing and preservation work before the National Park Service (NPS) opened the site as a national monument.

Now Black church leaders are pressing the federal agency to develop more memorials like this one. They want to mark Black history on public land, and they have specific spots in mind like the site of the 2015 church massacre in Charleston, South Carolina.

This month, leaders of the some of the largest Black Protestant denominations and several state Baptist conventions made formal overtures to the park service to memorialize a site connected with the 1908 Springfield race riots in Illinois. The NPS—which oversees historical markers and memorials on public land, such as the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC—currently has no sites documenting lynchings or mass killings of African Americans.

Separately, in a new survey from the National Religious Partnership for the Environment (NRPE), 700 Black church leaders listed their suggestions for possible memorial sites, noting that they felt their past input on public lands had been “politely ignored.”

Among the most popular responses were sites honoring Black leaders such as Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson, and Frederick …

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