From Structure to Literature: The National Parks Register of Historic Places that Gave Voice to the Black Experience

Today’s post was written by Holly Rivet, archival technician at the National Archives in St. Louis.

The National Archives Catalog now includes digital scans of the applications for places that have been considered for National Historic Places and Landmarks status.  National Register of Historic Places and National Historic Landmarks Program Records, 2013 – 2017 (NAID 20812721) is rich with historical narratives, photos, maps, and supporting evidence.  African American literature is represented in many contexts in this record series. 

list of names for head of household on a census form
tally table for free colored persons in the house of Northup
Detail of the 1830 Census for New York showing Solomon Northup listed as head of household and the tally table for Free Colored Persons (NAID 7490028, detail)

Solomon Northup was born a freeman man living in Saratoga, New York when he was kidnapped then sold into slavery in 1841.  He was bought by cotton planter, Edwin Epps and held there for roughly twelve years.  He was able to smuggle letters to his family who then petitioned to regain his freedom in 1853.  Later that year he published his memoir Twelve Years a Slave and became a lecturer in support of abolition.  The Edwin Epps House (NAID 73973016) in Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana was relocated from its original location at Bayou Beouf for preservation purposes, and still stands today. 

The restored house can be visited along the Northup Trail which is maintained by the Louisiana Byways Program.  More National Archives holdings regarding Solomon Northup can be found in this post from the Education Updates blog.

Haley speaking in front of microphone
Alex Haley addressing HUD employees in Washington, DC (NAID 24070480)

As a child, Alex Haley listened to the women in his family tell stories of their ancestors at the home of his grandmother, Cynthia Palmer.  They spoke of Kunte Kinte, Haley’s great, great, great, great grandfather who had been kidnapped from what is now Jufureh, Gambia.  Some preliminary genealogical research had been done by his aunt and grandmother, but he carried the torch as he got older. 

Haley traveled across the United States and West Africa to gather more information about his family which he realized was a story greater than his family unit.  This was the story shared by the majority of African Americans.  It is a large part of the American story that was not included in the American narrative.  He composed his work into the book Roots which became a widely viewed miniseries in 1977.  Later that year, Haley was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Roots, the story of a black family from its origins in Africa through seven generations to the present day in America.  The Will E. Palmer House (NAID 135818928) is now the Alex Haley Museum and Interpretive Center, located in Henning, Tennessee.

view of exit ramp showing Alex Haley museum sign
Approaching Henning, TN, on Highway 51 North, you see the exit for TN Highway 209 North and the first sign for the Alex Haley Museum. (NAID 7718879)

Rediscover African American History by visiting the Black History Portal.

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