February 22, 2021 |Kristie George

African Americans in Conservation: Places and Spaces to Remember Black History

America’s story begins outdoors. Our lands and waters are the backdrop for our most poignant national memories: homesteads, explorations, war, escape, adventure and more. We work to protect the places where history was made.

Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Sites, Maryland
2 22 21 Harriet Tubman Rural Legacy Area MD c EcoPhotography201904053 Photo by Jerry and Marcy Monkman/EcoPhotography.

Harriet Tubman survived the long and dangerous route to freedom as a runaway slave in 1849. After finding freedom in Philadelphia, Harriet not only went back to her home in Maryland on several trips to free her family, but she also helped free many more enslaved people through the Underground Railroad. Harriet also worked in the Civil War as a cook, nurse, and even a spy!

Her legacy can now be celebrated at several sites along the eastern shore of Maryland. The Conservation Fund donated a key 480-acre property to the National Park Service, which is now part of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park. Additionally, Maryland’s Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park was established on a 17-acre property protected by the Fund. These sites commemorate Harriet’s life work on the Underground Railroad in the landscape of marshes, woodlands and fields that are reminiscent of the backdrop for her early life on the Eastern Shore. The Fund is also working with the State of Maryland to protect and conserve the natural, cultural and historic landscape within the 28,300-acre Harriet Tubman Rural Legacy Area.


Fort Davis National Historic Site, Texas
2 22 21 AV FortDavis Texas GailaHiebertMartin001Photo by Gaila Hiebert Martin.

Fort Davis National Historic Site is one of the best-preserved examples of a frontier military post in the American Southwest and serves as a reminder of the significant role played by the military in the settlement and development of the western frontier. The fort is perhaps best known as the headquarters for the first African-American Army regiments known as the Buffalo Soldiers, stationed here during the late 1800s.

When the famed Buffalo Soldiers stepped out of their barracks at Fort Davis they saw a dramatic skyline created by the jagged cliffs of the rugged Davis Mountains. This long-standing view was in jeopardy when the prominent 41-acre bluff overlooking the fort went up for sale, but today that view is intact and protected. The Conservation Fund purchased the property and worked with the National Park Service to add the land to the Fort Davis National Historic Site in early 2011. Keep reading.


Fort Blakeley, Alabama
2 22 21 Blakeley Bluff AL c Keith West University of South Alabama202010234 1Photo by Keith West/University of South Alabama.

On April 9, 1865—which is considered the last day of the Civil War—in less than half an hour, the Confederate Fort Blakeley was overrun by Union troops, leading to an overwhelming victory. Some estimate that U.S. Colored Troops represented nearly half the Union force at Blakeley, but the involvement of these troops in critical battles like Fort Blakeley has gone largely untold. You can learn more about the critical involvement of African Americans in the Civil War at the African American Civil War Memorial & Museum.

In order to preserve the historic land, The Conservation Fund protected a 60-acre battle site known as Blakeley Bluff. In 2019, we purchased the property, protected it with a conservation easement, then transferred the easement to the University of South Alabama in 2020 to restrict any future development, support the University’s ongoing research about the land, battle, and African American experience. Keep reading.


Freedom Riders National Monument, Alabama
2 22 21 Joseph Postiglione. Firebombed bus outside Anniston Alabama. 1961Photo by Joseph “Little Joe” Postiglione.

Despite the Supreme Court ruling in 1961 that segregation on interstate transportation was unconstitutional, African Americans saw little change to legal or cultural Jim Crow practices in the South. Freedom Rides were organized to continue nonviolent protests challenging segregation in these Southern towns. On May 14, 1961, a bus of Freedom Riders was attacked in Anniston, Alabama by a mob, which included the Ku Klux Klan. The violent attack resulted in slashed tires, broken windows, a fire and physical injuries to passengers.

These courageous and dedicated Freedom Riders risked their lives in work that eventually paved the way for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 2017, two sites in Alabama were designated as a national park unit called the Freedom Riders National Monument to preserve and protect the historic objects associated with the former Greyhound bus station in Anniston, Alabama, and the site of the bus burning outside of town. The Conservation Fund was honored to help protect these sites by using the real estate expertise of our Conservation Acquisitions program, and our Conservation Leadership Network’s community engagement and planning efforts. Keep reading.

Find Out More

African Americans in Conservation: Young Black Conservationists to Know
In the first post in our series African Americans in Conservation, we highlight young African Americans continuing the important work of changing the face of conservation and environmentalism.

African Americans in Conservation: Recognizing the Past to Inspire a Better Future
In our second post of the series African Americans in Conservation, we look to our past to inspire a better future by honoring those who have paved the way for Black conservationists.

Written by

Kristie George

At the time of publication, Kristie George was Graphic Designer for The Conservation Fund.