Throughout February, the Forest Preserves honored Black History Month with a series of social media posts highlighting influential African Americans in environmentalism, conservation or recreation, as well as partner organizations and programs connecting African American and other communities of color to nature.
Check out the posts below to learn more…
Colonel Charles Young
In 1903, then Captain Charles Young became military superintendent of northern California’s Sequoia National Park, making him the first African American to serve as a National Park superintendent. A graduate of West Point, Col. Young prioritized access to the Giant Forest, home of the world’s largest trees, significantly increasing the amount of roadway opened up from previous administrations—roads that are still in use today.
Learn more about Col. Charles Young: https://home.nps.gov/seki/learn/historyculture/young.htm.
Marshall “Major” Taylor
A world champion at age 21, Major Taylor dominated the popular sport of bicycle racing more than 100 years ago and became a pioneer in breaking through segregation in sports. His world records and hundreds of victories—despite enduring intense, racist backlash from his competitors—made him an international celebrity. Last year, a 400-foot-mural of his likeness and accomplishments was added to a bridge along southern Cook County’s Major Taylor Trail, a 7.6-mile bicycle route connecting the Forest Preserves’ Dan Ryan Woods and Whistler Woods.
Learn more about Major Taylor: http://www.majortaylorchicago.com/who-is-major-taylor/.
African-American Civilian Conservation Corps members
During the Great Depression, federal Civilian Conservation Corps work camps offered three million young men jobs in natural conservation. About 250,000 were African American, more than a quarter of which worked in or near Chicago. The biggest local task was the massive engineering project of turning Forest Preserves’ marshland into the Skokie Lagoons. Facing segregation (despite a CCC mandate to operate without discrimination) and often given the most grueling work, three African-American companies helped to manually dig and haul the earth needed to build the new flood control and recreation landscape.
Check out this photo of one of the African-American Camp Skokie Valley companies, from https://skokielagoons.omeka.net/exhibi…/show/exhibit/item/27.
Partners/programs connecting African American and other communities of color to nature
- Wild Indigo Nature Explorations: an Audubon Great Lakes program that provides free field trips and educational opportunities focused on exploring the natural wonders of the Calumet region.
- Faith in Place: an organization empowering Illinois people of all faiths to be leaders in caring for the Earth through education, connection and advocacy.
- Proviso Partners for Health: a community-driven coalition promoting health in Maywood, Bellwood, Broadview and Melrose Park through workshops on nature’s health benefits, connecting local partners to Forest Preserves events, networking and more. (www.provisopartners.com)