This week marks National Parks Week in the United States, an annual celebration meant to get the people outside, into nature, and on their feet. In honor of the event, here are a few parks around the country dedicated to Black Catholics:
Louis Armstrong Park, New Orleans
Dedicated to Satchmo in the 1970s, the park features the famous Congo Square, where enslaved Africans once gathered regularly to practice traditions from the motherland, the combinations of which would eventually lead to the creation of jazz (the larger Armstrong park grounds also house the Jazz National Historical Park). Within Armstrong park stands a 12-foot statue of Armstrong himself, as well as another Black Catholic jazz legend Sidney Bechet.
El Pueblo de Los Ángeles State Historical Monument, Los Angeles
This downtown Los Angeles gem marks the spot where the original Spanish founders of the city arrived, after taking a trek on foot from the San Gabriel Valley in 1781. Around half of the group were Black. Today, after a series of controversies involving the removal of this fact from the monument, a large plaque in the center of the park commemorates these “Pobladores” in all their glory. A nearby monument in Grand Park, the Paseo de los Pobladores, is also dedicated to their memory.
DuSable Park, Chicago
This park, though unfinished and largely undeveloped at all, commemorates Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, the Haitian-American founder of Chicago, who settled the area in the late 18th century. He would later move away, but his legacy lives on in the city—though the park has been in limbo for decades. Another park was named in his honor in St Charles, Missouri, where he moved after leaving Chicago.
BME Freedom Park, Ontario, Canada
This park, located across Lake Erie from Detroit and Cleveland, honors with a statue one Mary Ann Shadd Cary, the founder and publisher of The Provincial Freeman, a Black Canadian newspaper dedicated to freedom causes. She was born in Wilmington, Delaware, and emigrated to Ontario in 1853 with her parents and siblings. After becoming the first Black woman publisher in North America and the first woman publisher of any race in Canada, she returned to the US to become the first Black woman to study law in the country. She is buried in National Harmony Memorial Park in Maryland.
Cane River Creole National Historic Park, Natchitoches, Louisiana
A major center of Louisiana Creole culture, which was heavily Catholic, this Cane River park houses two former plantations, Oakland and Magnolia. The land is a prominent site on the Louisiana African American Heritage Trail, and the area—including its famed St Augustine Catholic Church—is featured in the 1982 romantic drama Cane River (which was recently rediscovered and now streams digitally).
Fort Mose Historic State Park, St Augustine, Florida
This park commemorates Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, a pre-American Spanish fort at which some of the earliest North American settlers—namely, formerly enslaved Africans who escaped from British America—were stationed to fend off British and other invaders. They were the first free Black settlers in what would become the United States, granted asylum under the Spanish crown in exchange for conversion and military service.
Josephite Seminary Park, Washington, DC
Stationed in front of St Joseph’s Seminary, this park puts one directly in front of the home base of the Society of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, whose members (the Josephite priests and brothers) have served the African-American community for over 125 years. Among their ranks served Fr Charles Uncles, the first and only Black founder of an extant religious community of priests in the US; Fr Philip Berrigan, the legendary Catholic peace activist; and Eugene Marino, the first Black archbishop in the US. Inside the seminary is an archive claimed by many as the most significant record of African-American life in the entire nation.
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, in priesthood formation with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).