"We have our own cultural ways of being in nature": Black Americans and National Parks

Authors: Aby Sene-Harper*, Clemson University, Myron F Floyd, North Carolina State University
Topics: Protected Areas, Tourism Geography, United States
Keywords: African Americans ; National Parks; Nature Tourism; Race
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Researchers have offered several explanations to understand park visitation and other forms of outdoor recreation behavior among African Americans and other minority groups. The most prominent explanations in the parks, recreation and tourism literature focus on socioeconomic barriers, cultural norms, socialization practices and interpersonal and institutional discrimination. Fewer but critical studies brought historical context into sharper relief to properly frame African American park visitation. The recent findings on African American environmental relationships provide opportunities for further research on the relevance of national parks to African Americans. To provide some insight into this critical question, we conducted a qualitative research study funded by the NPS. We collected data from focus group interviews in North Carolina, Georgia and Washington D.C. with middle class African Americans who have visited national parks in the past. We complemented this primary data with material from nonacademic sources including outdoor magazine articles and radio interviews. The results of this study reveal several emerging themes not thoroughly explored in past research. One of those encapsulates a resurgent fear of racial oppression in nature driven by the current political climate. Despite this barrier, there is a desire to reclaim and recreate their own environmental narrative as an important step towards increasing their interests in national parks. To this end, a prominent and more accurate interpretation of African American legacy can help sustain a stronger connection with national parks. .

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