20 Years of Preserving African American History in Our National Parks


Throughout 2021, the National Park Foundation (NPF) is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its African American Experience Fund (AAEF). Established in 2001, AAEF’s mission is to connect people to the role that African Americans have played throughout history in our national parks. 

“Black history is American history,” said National Park Foundation Chief Program Officer LaTresse Snead in a press release. “The stories our national parks tell will be enriched by investing in sites and programs that preserve and share the diversity of our country, including the contributions of Black people in America.”

From the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site and Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site to the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site and the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, there are many locations throughout the country that mark important moments and contributions from African American people in American history. Part of the reason AAEF was established was to increase engagement in and awareness of these sites within the African American community, helping future generations learn more about the United States’ diverse history.   

Robert F. Smith’s Commitment to Preserving African American History and Culture

The AAEF has an ongoing partnership with the Fund ll Foundation, of which Robert F. Smith is the founding director and President. In part due to the continued support from the Fund ll Foundation, the NPF is able to expand their support for AAEF and add additional projects at national park sites to preserve and showcase African American history and culture. 

Another way to preserve African American history is through the procurement of historic sites. In 2019, the NPF announced the organization’s purchase of the homes where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lived through a grant from the Fund ll Foundation. The homes are now preserved as part of the Martin Kuther King, Jr. National Historical Park in Atlanta, and their stories have been preserved digitally. 

“A key component of Fund II Foundation’s mission is to bring African-American history to life and preserve it for generations,” said Smith at the time of the announcement. “This grant will help make it possible for all people to experience and learn first-hand about Dr. King’s legacy and the civil rights stories that are part of our shared American heritage.” In 2018, Smith was awarded the title of “Honorary Ranger” by the NPF in recognition of his work to preserve African American history and culture at national parks across the country. 

The National Park Service and NPF continue to hold events that celebrate the intersection of African Americans and our national parks throughout history. To learn more, virtually attend one of these events such as Boston: An Underground Railroad Hub, a discussion about the central role that Boston played in the Underground Railroad Network. You can also explore national parks on their various anniversaries of their founding, and learn more about a national park near where you live.