Lamar University African American History Month 2016      

Theme: Hallowed Grounds: Sites of African American Memories

This year's theme, chosen by The Association for the Study of African American Life & History, brings attention to the centennial celebration of the National Park Service (1916-2016). More than twenty-five Hallowed Grounds (African American sites) have received the National Park Service's Historical Landmark designation.  States have also designated sites as historical landmarks. The history of African Americans unfolds across the canvas of America, beginning before the arrival of the Mayflower and continuing to the present. From port cities where Africans disembarked from slave ships to the battle fields where their descendants fought for freedom, from the colleges and universities where they pursued education to places where they created communities, the imprint of Americans of African descent is deeply embedded in the narratives of the American past. Each historical site tells a story. These sites prompt us to remember the past - and over time, have become hallowed grounds.

One cannot tell the story of America without preserving and reflecting on the places where African Americans have made history. The Kingsley Plantation, DuSable's home site, the numerous stops along the Underground Railroad, Seneca Village, Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church and Frederick Douglass' home are sites that keep alive the people and places that shaped not only a people's existence but also their destiny. They retain and refresh the memories of the struggles for freedom and justice, and the belief in God's grace and mercy. Similarly, the hallowed grounds of Mary McLeod Bethune's home in Washington, D.C., 125th Street in Harlem, Beale Street in Memphis, and Sweet Auburn Avenue in Atlanta tell the story of the struggle for recognition and equality.



(National Historical Landmark, National Park Service)

The first documented Africans arrived in Jamestown in August 1619. Most African Americans trace their origin to an area in western Africa. The empires of Ghana, Mali and Songhai flourished on slave trade and developed efficient systems of government. It is estimated that by 1750, about 200,000 slaves lived in the colonies.

Historical Marker at Jamestown

Jamestown Marker

Artist Depiction of Jamestown
Jamestown Marker



(also known as the Zephaniah Kingsley Plantation Home and Buildings)
Jacksonville, Florida
(National Historical Landmark, National Park Service)

The Kingsley Plantation is the oldest plantation in Florida.  Labor at Kingsley Plantation was carried out by the task system: each slave was given an assigned set of tasks for the day, such as processing 20–30 pounds (9–14 kg) of cotton or constructing three barrels. When the day's jobs were completed, slaves were free to do as they chose. Zephaniah Kingsley, plantation owner, wrote a defense of slavery and the three-tier social system that acknowledged the rights of free people of color that existed in Florida under Spanish rule.

Main House at Kinsley Plantation

Kinsley Plantation Main House

Slave Quarters at Kinsley Plantation

Kinsley Plantation Main House
Chicago, Illinois
(National Register of Historic Places, National Park Service)

Jean- Baptiste Point du Sable was the first permanent non-native settler to live at the site that today is known as Chicago, Illinois. In the early 1770s, he settled near Peoria, Illinois and built a log cabin on his eight-hundred acre property. By 1779, he had set up a home and trading post at the mouth of the Chicago River. On October 25, 1968, the state of Illinois and the city of Chicago officially recognized du Sable as the founder of Chicago. His home site, now located in Pioneer Court, is recognized as a National Historic Landmark. His trading post is pictured in a 1930 Raoul Varin engraving.

Jean Baptiste Point du Sable Homesite Artists Depictions

Du Sable

Jean Baptiste Point du Sable Home Artist Depiction

Du Sable Home



(National Historic Sites, National Park Service)

During the mid-1800s, abolitionists began to enter politics and use their homes to help black slaves escape the South for freedom in the North. The routes and the places became known as the "Underground RailroadÓ, although it wasn't underground and didn't involve any trains. Hiding places were known as "stations" and people where called "conductors." The National Park Service lists twenty-twenty (22) states with specific ÒstationsÓ within the state that served as a safe harbor and thereby, comprising the Underground Railroad.  Slaves seeking freedom found safe harbor in ÒstationsÓ located in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Florida, Kansas, Colorado, Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Delaware, and in the District of Columbia.

Map of the Underground Railroad Routes

Map of Underground Railroad        

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubmqan

Tubman, a runaway slave herself, was one of the most famous "conductors" of the Underground Railroad.Tubman returned to the South nineteen (19) times and personally led 300 slaves' escape to freedom.

Bethel AME Church in Reading, Pennsylvania

Bethel AME Reading PA

An Acitve Stop on the Underground Railroad

Secrets and Codes of the Underground Railroad



The Many Myths of Slaves and the Underground Railroads





Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
(National Historical Landmark, National Park Service)

The Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church was one of the first African American churches in the United States.  It was founded in 1794 by Richard Allen, an African American Methodist minister. The current congregation still worships at its founding location on the corner of Sixth and Lombard Streets in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is the oldest church property in the United States to be continuously owned by African Americans. The church was organized by African American members of St. George's Methodist Church who walked out due to racial segregation in the worship services. The current church, constructed from 1888-1890, replaced the first one and has been designated a National Historic Landmark.


Mother Bethlel A.M.E.

Mother Bethel AME

Portrait of Richard Allen on Stain Glass Window
inside Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church

Richard Allen


Mother Bethel: The Oldest Black Church in the U.S.    




Mother Bethel Church





Houston, Texas
(National Historic Register of Historic Places)

Freedman's Town in Houston is the one of the first and the largest of the post-Civil War black urban communities in Texas.  Freedmen's Town traces its beginnings back to 1866 when emancipated slaves first settled in tents and shanties on the banks of Buffalo Bayou, swampy land no one else wanted.  Soon, the new settlers, many of whom were skilled stone masons and carpenters, had built homes, businesses, brick churches and paved brick streets with the bricks they had forged themselves.  Although African Americans lived in Houston before and during the Civil War, Freedman's Town represented the first spatial community of black Houstonians in the city. For decades, Freedmen's Town was the epicenter of Houston's African American community, a thriving enclave of professionals, educators and businessmen, but he Depression caused homeowners to lose their properties. In 1984, Freedmen's Town was designated a historic district in the National Register of Historic Places. At the time, 530 historic structures stood in the 40-block area. Today, thirty structures remain.

Historical Marker in Freedman's Town

Historical Marker Freedmans Town

Original Homes - remanents of Freedman's Town

Homes in Freedmans Town




City of Houston, Texas - Bethel Baptist Church Park
(National Register of Historic Sites, National Park Service)

The original Bethel Church building was constructed in 1889 as a haven for former slaves and was entirely constructed of wood.  Built by the Reverend John (Jack) H. Yates, an early leader of Houston's African American community, the church was located in Freedmen's Town, a post-Civil War Houston neighborhood founded by freed slaves. The church has had three sanctuaries on the same site. The first structure (1889) was destroyed by the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900. Between 1900 and 1920, a second church structure was erected on top of the remains but it too was later destroyed. In 1923, the church was reconstructed for a third and final time. In 1997, the last church service was held in the building after which it was abandoned. On January 24, 2005, a fire destroyed the interior of the church, leaving only the exterior brickwork intact. The roof, the entire interior and even the church's back wall had been destroyed.  All that was left were three walls, some concrete supports and the concrete floor. In 2009, the church was sold to the City of Houston. Soon thereafter, the city erected steel supports and a concrete floor to preserve the building.

The late Gothic Revival building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1998. Today, a beautiful park can be found within the interior walls.


Bethel Baptist Church
801 Andrew Steet, Houston, Texas

Bethel Church Houston




Washington, D.C.
(National Historic Site, National Park Service)

The Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, administered by the National Park Service, is located in Washington, D.C.   Established in 1988 as a National Historic Site, the site preserves the home and estate of Frederick Douglass, one of the most prominent African Americans of the 19th century.  Frederick Douglass (born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, c. February 1818 - February 20, 1895) was a social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman.  After escaping from slavery, he became a leader in the abolitionist movement, gaining note for his dazzling oratory and incisive antislavery writings.  He stood as a living counter-example to slaveholders' arguments that slaves lacked the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens. Even many Northerners at the time found it hard to believe that such a great orator had once been a slave. Douglass lived in this house, which he named Cedar Hill, from 1877 until his death in 1895.

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglas

Frederick Douglass Estate

Frederick Douglas Estate



Washington, D.C
National Historic Site, National Park Services)

Mary Jane McLeod Bethune (born Mary Jane McLeod; July 10, 1875 – May 18, 1955) was an American educator and life rights leader best known for starting a private school for African American students in Daytona Beach, Florida. She attracted donations of time and money, and developed the academic school as a college. It later continued to develop as Bethune-Cookman University. She also was appointed as a national adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt as part of what was known as his Black Cabinet.  She was known as "The First Lady of The Struggle" because of her commitment to gain better lives for African Americans. Honors include designation of her home in Daytona Beach as a National Historic Landmark, her house in Washington, D.C. as a National Historic Site, and the installation of a sculpture of her in Lincoln Park in Washington, D.C.

Mary McLeod Bethune (Home)
Council House in Washington, D.C.

Mary Bethune Home

Bethune-Cookman University
Daytona Beach, Florida

Bethun Cookman University

Mary McLeod BethuneMary Bethune




New York City, New York
(Various Sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places)

Harlem is a large neighborhood within the northern section of the New York City borough of Manhattan.  125th Street is often considered to be the "Main Street" of Harlem, and is co-named Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. Since the 1920s, Harlem has been known as a major African American residential, cultural and business center. Originally a Dutch village, formally organized in 1658, it is named after the city of Haarlem in the Netherlands. African American residents began to arrive en masse in 1905, due to the Great Migration.  In the 1920s and 1930s, Central and West Harlem were the focus of the "Harlem Renaissance.Ó Many places in Harlem are New York City Landmarks and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Harlem Hospital

The hospital is credited with saving the life of The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1958.  He was giving a speech at a bookstore in 125th Street when a deranged woman stabbed him in the chest. He was rushed to Harlem Hospital Center, where the Chief of Surgery, Dr. Aubrey Maynard performed a unique, complex, and innovative procedure.  Dr. King had a full recovery and the fine work of the physicians and staff at Harlem Hospital Center is mentioned in his autobiography.

Harlem Hospital (ca. 1907)

Harlem Hospital

Apollo Theater

The Apollo Theater was constructed in 1914 on 125th Street in Harlem, New York.  It was originally Hurtig and Seamon's New Burlesque Theatre, and African American admissions were not permitted.  It originally featured burlesque.  In January 1934, African Americans began to perform and the attention shifted from burlesque to the new celebration of Black culture in New York City. The theater still hides racy murals behind the red-velvet wall coverings.  Initial African American performances featured Ralph Cooper, Sr. Benny Carter, and the 16 Gorgeous Hotsteppers. The Apollo Theater became a place to celebrate African American performers and has featured well-known performers. This venue helped many now famous Black performers such as James Brown, Stevie Wonder, and even Michael Jackson launch their careers.

The Apollo Theater

Apollo Theater


Harlem History


The Harlem Renaissance




Memphis, Tennessee
National Historic Landmark, National Park Service)

Beale Street, a street in downtown Memphis, Tennessee, is a significant location in the city's history as well as in the history of the blues.  Beale Street was created in 1841 by entrepreneur and developer Robertson Topp (1807–1876) who named it for a forgotten military hero of the Mexican-American War.  By the 1960s, Beale Street had fallen on hard times and many businesses closed. However, the section of the street from Main to 4th was declared a National Historic Landmark on May 23, 1966. On December 15, 1977, Beale Street was officially declared the "Home of the Blues" by an act of Congress. Despite national recognition of its historic significance, Beale Street was a virtual ghost town after a disastrous urban renewal program that razed blocks of buildings in the surrounding neighborhood, as well as a number of buildings on Beale Street.

Beale Street

Beale Street



Beale Street Musical History


Beale Street History and Virtual Field Trip


Atlanta, Georgia
(National Historic Landmark, National Park Services)

Concentrated along a short mile and a half of Auburn Avenue, the Sweet Auburn Historic District reflects the history, heritage and achievements of Atlanta's African Americans. The name Sweet Auburn was coined by John Wesley Dobbs, referring to the "richest Negro street in the world." Like other Black communities throughout the country, Sweet Auburn's success was intricately tied to the residential patterns forced on African Americans during the early 20th century--the result of restrictive laws in southern states which enforced segregation of the races, known as Jim Crow laws. It was here that many African Americans established businesses, congregations, and social organizations.

In 1976, the area covering 19 acres was designated as a National Historic Landmark District because of its history and development as a segregated neighborhood under the state's Jim Crow laws.

Peachtree and Auburn Avenue (ca. 1940)

Peachtree and Auburn



New York, New York
(State of New York Historical Society Site)

Seneca Village was a small village in the borough of Manhattan in New York City founded by freed Black people. Seneca Village existed from 1825 through 1857, when it was torn down for the construction of Central Park. The village was the first significant community of African American property owners on Manhattan, and also came to be inhabited by several other ethnic groups, including Irish and German immigrants. The village was located on about 5 acres (approximately 20,000 square miles) between 82nd and 89th Streets, and where Seventh and Eighth Avenues intersect. This area is now included in Central Park.

Seneca Village (present day Central Park) Artist Depiction

Map of Seneca Village



Photo of Home in Seneca Village (date unknown)

   Seneca Village House


The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the Nation's historic places worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America's historic and archeological resources.