National Park Sites – Why Not?

Ideas and Issues
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New Orleans     I have to admit that I love national parks.  They are such a wonderful part of our America, whether it’s Yellowstone or Chaco Canyon or a walking tour of the French Quarter or the National River Park on the Buffalo River.  I got one of those lifetime passes, when they were first offered, even though I don’t get to go often, and usually can’t find it when I need it.  Given what I just admitted, it won’t come as a surprise that I throw a couple of bucks in the pot as a member or whatever they call me of the National Parks Conservation Association.  As a member you get their magazine four times a year.  They had to bite their lips hard during Trump times since they are strenuously nonpartisan but couldn’t deny that the whole system seemed to have had a bullseye on its back in those years from multiple directions.

I found myself reading an interesting article in their Winter issue called “Revolution Revisited” about the efforts of Huey Newton’s widow and others to create a National Park site at DeFremery Park in Oakland, where the Black Panther Party ran some of its earliest programs.  These folks have organizing hardwired in their DNA and are trying to get the park and some other sites recognized as part of the brief but dynamic history of the Panthers.  They have their eyes on the National Park Service as the steward of their legacy managing the site, if they can win.

Fredrika Newton was an early member of the Panthers in Oakland.  She married Newton in 1984, and he was shot down by a drug dealer in 1989.  She’s a woman on a mission as president of the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation, which she has used a vehicle to share the story of the movement and the memories of its founders and members.  She’s scored some coups with a statue in Huey’s honor in the park and getting the City of Oakland to rename three blocks in West Oakland in his honor.  She was on her way with the Parks Service process as well when they awarded a grant to Ula Taylor, chair of African American studies at UC-Berkeley to fund a “Black Panther Party Research, Interpretation & Memory Project.”  The Trump administration withdrew the grant weeks after it was awarded when the president of the Fraternal Order of Police wrote a letter to Trump condemning the Park Service’s “interest in the party, which he characterized as ‘an extremist separatist group that advocated the use of violence against our country’ and a “violent and repugnant organization.’  Luckily, he didn’t say what he really thought about the Panthers.

It’s a slog of course, because history itself has now become politicized and polarized, not that it hasn’t always been.  After years of suppression, when history arises too many have an interest in shouting it back down, either because it’s not their history, or because it doesn’t fit the popular or ideological narrative.

Regardless, people learn from history and everyone should have a right to see and confront the truth, even when there are rough edges dragging.  I’m rooting for Mrs. Newton and her project, but I have to admit to something more than that.  ACORN should someday have the National Park Service doing the work of interpretation and memory for the peoples’ struggle for more than 50 years under our banner, too.  Let it all come out.  As the slogan heralded in one of our early conventions, “Let the People Speak!”  Now, I would add, Let the People Hear!