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Sec. Ken Salazar

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Telling the Whole Story of America

Posted: 04/11/2013 3:43 pm

Two weeks ago, President Obama welcomed Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument into our National Park System. Located in Maryland, the site commemorates a woman -- often referred to as "the Moses of her people" -- who enabled many enslaved people to emancipate themselves and escape to freedom in the North.

The new national park joins what is arguably the finest system of parks in the world. With sites from Yellowstone to the Statue of Liberty, our national parks celebrate the natural beauty of our land and the richness of our history and culture.

For too long, however, a system that's known as "America's Storyteller" has been missing a few chapters.

In establishing Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument, President Obama not only honored a fearless woman but also took another important step to celebrate the history and contributions of all Americans in our parks and other historic sites.

When I took office, too few national historic landmarks focused on the lives of women, Asian Americans, African Americans, Latinos or other diverse communities that make up the fabric of our nation.

It's clear that we need to make the story of America more inclusive -- or risk losing connection with a majority of Americans.

Under his America's Great Outdoors Initiative, President Obama has moved quickly to make our national parks more reflective of our nation, creating new national monuments that tell a more complete story of America.

César E. Chávez National Monument in California tells the story of one of the great civil rights leaders of the 20th century whose work dramatically improved the lives of migrant farm workers.

Fort Monroe National Monument in Virginia was a safe haven for enslaved people seeking refuge during the Civil War and provided an important precedent that led to the Emancipation Proclamation.

Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument in Ohio commemorates a distinguished African American army officer of the late 19th and early 20th centuries who was the third African American to graduate from West Point and the first to achieve the rank of colonel.

Meanwhile, the Interior Department last year awarded nearly $3 million in grants as part of an on-going effort to preserve and tell the story of Japanese American internment camps during World War II, a shameful but important part of our nation's history.

Looking to the future, the Park Service has just released a major theme study on the contributions of American Latinos and is working with scholars to conduct similar studies on key sites related to the history of women and Asian Americans. These studies will help lay the foundation for additional recognition through our national parks and beyond.

When we dedicated the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the National Mall last year, we witnessed a tangible excitement among visitors, who saw the struggle for civil rights commemorated on America's "Front Lawn."

In 2016, the National Park Service will celebrate its 100th anniversary. If the National Park System is to continue to be relevant in its second century, we need to replicate that excitement across the country by engaging all communities and telling the whole story of America.

As I prepare to step down at Interior, I'm proud of the progress we have made to make what has been called "America's Best Idea" even better for all Americans.

 

Follow Sec. Ken Salazar on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Interior

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