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Queen Sugar stars kick off national initiative

MIKE McGEE | 8/28/2017, 7:43 a.m.
Queen Sugar stars Dawn-Lyen Gardner and Rutina Wesley joined the efforts of the National Park Service to inspire more Black ...
Rutina Wesley, in the black shirt on the far left, questions a reenactor at the Malus-Beauregard House on life as an enslaved child. The star of Queen Sugar participated in an effort by The National Park Service to attract more African Americans to national parks and the history they preserve. Mike McGee

The Dallas Examiner

Queen Sugar stars Dawn-Lyen Gardner and Rutina Wesley joined the efforts of the National Park Service to inspire more Black families to visit national parks. Using the tools of history and inclusion, the Find Your Park initiative intended to spark interest in national parks within communities of people of color launched Aug. 10 aboard the Creole Queen paddle wheeler in New Orleans.

The concept was proposed 10 years ago as part of the celebration of 100 years of the National Park Service, Alanna Sobel said. As senior communications manager of National Park Foundation, Sobel revealed that attendance at the national parks tends to skew towards older, and mostly White, Americans. However, the NPS wants to be sure that all U.S. citizens get the message that the system consisting of 417 parks, trails and monuments welcomes everyone.

There are 16 sites managed by the NPS in Texas, according to NPS.gov. These include Amistad National Recreation Area, Big Bend, Padre Island, the Waco Mammoth and the Big Thicket, as well as various battlefields, monuments and Spanish missions. Encouraging a higher minority attendance to such sights nationwide was the ultimate goal of the kickoff.

“These parks belong to you; they’re your birthright. I think every American should know about them and enjoy them, and learn from them,” Sobel said as she promoted the social media hashtag #findyourpark during the event.

The affair included a stop at the Malus-Beauregard House at Chalmette Battlefield and National Cemetery, the scene of the Battle of New Orleans, which ended with a British loss on Jan. 8, 1815. At the time, the War of 1812 was still raging, and residents of New Orleans feared British troops would march in to burn the city to the ground.

NPS Superintendent Lance Patten emphasized that not only did the win for the city insure the independence of America, but a variety of individuals – those who were indigenous, those enslaved, those free and those foreign – all participated in the victory.

The battle was a rout of the British, marking the first time Black and White regiments fought side by side, including the precursor for what eventually became the Buffalo Soldiers. Of the 7,000 British troops assembled, their losses are estimated to be around 3,000. The American force of 3,000 to 4,000 had a total of 13 dead.

“They just walked across the battlefield, red jackets on, and all the Americans are behind the rampart,” the superintendent explained. He also remarked that the life-saving rampart was built entirely from slave labor.

Adding intricacy to the racial history of the region – of American history itself – after the Civil War, a Black community was established beyond the rampart, housing freed slaves and free Blacks alike for over 100 years.

The community was eventually razed in 1964, when the land became a national park and a decree was issued that the site had to be returned to its authentic 1815 state, making the community an anachronism.

“This house is not historically accurate for the battle either,” park ranger Alyssa Arnell expressed as she made a wry point about the decree. “So there has been active engagement to protect some history, active engagement to remove others. But we are now trying to bring a more inclusive narrative to the story that you are being told here.”