On the Frontlines of School Integration

As we reflect on the annual commemoration of Martin Luther King, Jr., we’re also reminded of the many early efforts to end racial segregation across the nation.  One of most infamous was the struggle to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, one that eventually spawned a national historic site.

On September 23, 1957, Central High School became the frontline in the battle to integrate America’s schools.  That’s the day nine African American teenagers sought to begin the school year in the formerly all-white school – just three years after the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision mandating equal education for all Americans.

Credit: Bettman, Getty Images

Despite the new law, an angry mob formed outside the high school as the nine students entered the doors.  Eventually the Little Rock police removed the African American students, fearing for their safety.  But soon after, President Dwight Eisenhower mobilized the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division to escort “the Nine” into the school.

The National Park Service commemorated this historic occasion with the inclusion of the high school as a National Historic Landmark in 1982.  In 1999, the Little Rock Nine each received the Congressional Medal, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Central High School continues to serve as a public high school – the only functioning school located within the boundary of a national historic site.  It ranks as one of the nation’s top public schools. The Park Service operates a nearby visitor center that interprets the historic civil rights events that landed the school in the national limelight.  And JNPA proudly offers educational products related to the site in the park store.

Let’s Enjoy Winter

Ready to meet winter head-on with a fun outdoor experience?  The National Park Service has you covered with a number of great options.  And our partner site Voyageurs National Park just made a nationwide list of 11 national parks with incredible winter activities. 

Want snow and ice? Look no further than Voyageurs, a 218,000-acre frozen wonderland in northern Minnesota.  Hardy winter visitors have their choice of snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and ice-fishing.  Maybe that’s why Roadtrippers Magazine named Voyageurs one of the country’s best national parks for winter fun.

Start your visit at the Rainy Lake Visitor Center, currently open Friday through Sunday.  Rangers will supply you with trail maps, and even lend you cross-country skis and snowshoes.

Or if experiencing winter from your car is more your speed, test your driving skills on one of the park’s two ice roads, when conditions permit.   Park staff maintains two of these groomed roads from November to April.  The Roadtrippers reviewer calls it a “one-of-a-kind experience.”  (Not to worry – the park takes visitor security very seriously and constantly monitors the ice thickness to ensure a safe ride.)

Credit: NPS

Ice-fishing is another popular activity at Voyageurs.  The area is popular for anglers, who enjoy the quiet of the pine-studded shorelines and frozen lakes.  Visitors must bring their own ice house, and have a fishing license. 

There’s something for kids of all ages at Voyageurs. Put it on your winter travel list!

Joie de Vivre in the Midwest

When French settlers founded the village of Ste. Genevieve in the 1750s in what was then Illinois Country, they brought with them a heritage rich in Old World traditions, laws, foods, language, and architecture.  But many of their French customs unsettled – even shocked – many of their Anglo neighbors. 

The earliest French Canadian settlers who came to the Midwest were primarily farmers who were drawn to the rich soils of the Mississippi River floodplains.  They established a regional culture unlike anything else the territory had seen. 

Illustration of early scene of Ste. Genevieve in its original location on the banks of the Mississippi River. Cropped from a mural painted in 1924 that is located in the Missouri State Capitol building in Jefferson City, MO. Artist: Oscar E. Berninghaus (1874–1952).

Women and people of color had far more rights under French Creole law than under Anglo law. Women could buy, sell and inherit property, and could engage in business.  Enslaved people could earn money by working evenings and weekends, were allowed a day of rest on Sundays, and could purchase property.

The French lived in tight-knit communities and imported most of their clothing, pottery, wine and other amenities from Europe.  Though predominantly Catholic, their frequent celebrations scandalized their Protestant neighbors.  After Sunday church services, the Creoles often held spirited parties, playing billiards and betting on cards and horse racing, and dancing to lively music.  French cooking figured prominently in most festivities. And since every month saw at least one religious ceremony, the customs of the French often set them apart from the other cultures in the region.

Read more about early French culture in the Illinois Country here and here.  Or better yet, visit Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park to see the historic village firsthand.

Credit: Chris Collins, NPS

When the Sky is on Fire

Now that winter is here, many of us dread the inevitable shorter daylight hours.  But for those who live in (or visit) the upper latitudes of the northern hemisphere, there’s one spectacular upside to the encroaching darkness:  more opportunities to experience the Northern Lights.  And few locations are better for viewing these celestial light shows than Voyageurs National Park.

Situated near the Canadian border in northern Minnesota, Voyageurs is a natural wonderland of lakes and forests.  And while our longtime partner park offers stunning scenery by day, by night it offers one of nature’s most enthralling light shows – a shimmering cascade of colored streaks and dancing cloud-like formations illuminating the night sky. 

The northern lights have fascinated humans since the dawn of civilization, and they’ve been called many names. To the ancient Chinese, they were “cracks in the heavens.” The Lapps in Scandinavia label them “sky fires.” And various Indigenous peoples call them the “dance of the dead.”  Scientists refer to them (somewhat less poetically) as the aurora borealis.

Photo by Gordy Lindgren

The lights occur sporadically over the middle and high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, triggered when solar radiation collides with nitrogen and oxygen atoms in the Earth’s atmosphere. Considering Voyageur’s northern location, on a clear night you can see stunning displays of the northern lights as shades of greens, red, blues and purples dance in the night sky. (The color of the aurora depends on which atom is struck and the altitude of the collision.)

You can glimpse the northern lights at any time of year, but your chances are better during winter because there are more hours of darkness.  If you’re unable to travel to Voyageurs to see the light show for yourself, check out the photos on the park’s website.

Wait, Why Do They Call it WHITE Haven?

When you visit Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site, you can take a ranger-led tour of White Haven, the president’s home in the late 1850s.  But you’ll probably wonder why the home’s exterior isn’t painted white at all – it’s green!  

The young Army lieutenant Ulysses Grant first met his future wife, Julia Dent, at White Haven, the Missouri plantation owned by her parents.  Colonel Frederick Dent named the property after his family’s ancestral home in Maryland, which was called Whitehaven.  The handsome two-story frame house has sported a number of colors since it was first constructed in the early 1800s.  It was originally painted a light cream color, then was briefly repainted a medium gray around 1860.

White Haven circa 1850. Credit: NPS

In 1874, President and Mrs. Grant decided to have the home repainted in the fashionable Paris Green color that was all the rage during the Victorian Era. Although it was re-painted white while under private ownership in the 1940s, the National Park Service restored the house to the Grants’ preferred Paris Green color during the home’s restoration in the 1990s.

Credit: David Newmann, National Park Service

Visitors should definitely plan to stop by the 200-year-old home when they visit the historic White Haven estate.  Guided ranger tours are offered daily, the only way guests can access the interior of the venerable building.

(You can learn more about the history of the home’s evolving color scheme here.)

The Little National Park with the Long Name

When the National Park Service designates new sites, officials take care to name the park in honor of its founding mission and purpose. But they don’t necessarily consider the name’s ease of use.  Case in point: President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site (whew!).  Let’s take a virtual tour around the park and inside the home.

This national historic site in Hope, Arkansas, became part of the National Park Service exactly 11 years ago today.  The focal point of the park is the 2½-story home where former President Clinton spent his formative years.  Constructed in 1917, the frame house was built in “American foursquare” style, so called because of its square floor plan.

The restored interior has been restored to look as it did in the 1950s, when little Billy lived there with his mother and maternal grandparents. Visitors can see his small childhood bedroom when they tour the home with park rangers, as well as other rooms upstairs and downstairs.  

The adjacent NPS visitor center features interpretive exhibits focusing on the life of the 42nd President, as well as JNPA’s park store, which features a range of curated products relating to the former President. 

Let JNPA’s Online Store Ease Your Holiday Shopping

If you’re like us, you want to make your holiday shopping as easy as possible.  So if you don’t have time to visit our many partner sites this time of year, you can find many of our popular gift items in our online store.  And you can still feel good about your purchases, since they support the educational mission of the parks.

First, for the kiddies.  This Gateway Arch Mini-Puzzle – complete with its own carrying handle – would make an adorable stocking stuffer.  It contains 24 pieces and the finished size measures 10 x14 inches. 

And how about our very popular Arch watercolor book?  The pages start out black and white, until the child “paints” them with water from the refillable brush.  After the pages dry, the magic colors fade. So the book can be used again and again.  No muss, no fuss!

Now for the adults on your list.  We have a couple of suggestions that will keep them cozy and warm this winter.  When they fill this handsome glazed pottery mug with something hot, they’ll appreciate your thoughtfulness.  The dark blue mug features a tan medallion honoring White Haven, the St. Louis home of President Ulysses S. Grant.

Or perhaps they’d like to cuddle up in a cozy sweatshirt from Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park, one of America’s newest national parks. This charcoal-colored hooded sweatshirt features the park’s name and comes in a variety of adult sizes.

And finally, a bauble for your tree.  Check out this hand-painted glass ornament from the National Blues Museum. This snazzy little item comes in its own presentation box. 

You’ll find a host of other unique gift ideas in our online store.  But be sure to order soon, so we have time to get those packages to you before Christmas.

A River Runs Through Us

What river is home to a quarter of all fish species in North America?  Is the transportation corridor for nearly two-thirds of all grain exported from the United States?  Is the focal point for a National Park Service site in Minnesota?

If you answered the Mississippi River, you’re right!  This colossal waterway runs through 10 states and its watershed drains half the nation.  The Mississippi begins as a trickle in northern Minnesota and more than 2,300 miles later eventually flows into the Gulf of Mexico.

Twenty-three years ago this month, the National Park Service commemorated the upper stretch of the river with the establishment of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, in partnership with various local and state governments and other groups.  Although located in bustling St. Paul, MN, the 72-mile park offers quiet stretches for canoeing, fishing, birdwatching and hiking.  The site also features visitor centers and trails that highlight human and natural history along the river.

JNPA has been a proud non-profit partner of this site for more than 20 years.

Make the Most of Winter

Ice skating, holiday lights and music, cozy igloos, sweet s’mores and fireworks – now THAT’s a way to enjoy winter!  All this and more is happening during Winterfest in downtown St. Louis.

The six-week Winterfest celebration is going on now in the shadow of the Gateway Arch in Kiener Plaza on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from now through January 2nd, offering activities for all ages. 

Kids will enjoy ice skating, visits from popular princesses and superheroes, and toasting s’mores over a fire pit.  There are even “Try Hockey for Free” events for 4–9-year-olds, courtesy of the St. Louis Blues (advance registration required).  Adults can sample festive beverages and foods while they cozy up to their honey in a heated igloo.  And everyone will be wowed by the spectacular fireworks show on New Year’s Eve.

(While you’re at Winterfest, be sure to stop by JNPA’s newest shop, nestled within the new Kiener Plaza Visitor Center.)

This sixth annual Winterfest is produced by the Gateway Arch Park Foundation in partnership with the St. Louis Blues.  For more information on activities and hours, click here.

*Winterfest photos courtesy of Gateway Arch Park Foundation

Honoring America’s First Inhabitants

Many national parks and public lands are located on what was once the ancestral territories of Indigenous people. In honor of Native American Heritage Month, we think it’s fitting to briefly explore the Indigenous history of our partner parks.

“Oasis in the Badlands” by Edward S. Curtis from the New York Public Library

JNPA partners with nine national parks and public lands across five states. As many of our parks are located near each other, we have broken down their Indigenous heritage by region.

Missouri

Gateway Arch National Park, Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site, and Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park are all located in eastern Missouri. This area was traditionally home to the Otoe-Missouria Nation as well as the tribes of the Illini Confederacy: Cahokia, Kaskaskia, Michigamea, Moingwena, and Peoria. As you might guess, the state’s name comes from the tribal name “Missouria” which means “big canoe people.”

Throughout the 1800s, tribes were forcibly removed from Missouri. The Illini were removed in 1830. The last remaining tribe, the Otoe-Missouria Nation, was removed in 1881. Throughout this period, several other tribes passed through Missouri during their own forced relocations, including the Cherokee, Delaware, Kickapoo, Sac and Fox, and Shawnee. In 1956, Public Law 959 (known as the Adult Vocational Training Program), attracted many Native Americans to St. Louis as part of a program intended to “assimilate” them into the urban areas by promising moving assistance, vocational training, medical insurance, and other benefits.

An exhibit at Gateway Arch National Park

Arkansas

Arkansas is home to two of our partner parks, Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site and President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site. The most prevalent tribes in this region were the Caddos, Quapaws, and Osage before their forced removal in the 1830s. The Cherokee also briefly inhabited the state as they moved along the Trail of Tears to present-day Oklahoma. The French called the Quapaws the “Arkansas,” derived from the Illini word for “people of the south wind.”

Members of the Osage Nation at Ft. Smith, Arkansas, in 1865.

Nebraska & South Dakota

Along the Nebraska/South Dakota border, you will find our partner sites Missouri National Recreational River and the Lewis and Clark Visitor Center. With the nearby Missouri River, this area was an ideal home for the Ponca, Omaha, Yankton Nakota, and Teton Lakota tribes. The Santee Dakota were also relocated to the area from Minnesota when their lands were seized. As in other parts of the U.S., these tribes were forced out of the area in the mid-1800s.

In 1879, a lawsuit involving Ponca leader Standing Bear (Standing Bear v. Crook) was filed in federal court in Omaha. The presiding judge ruled in favor of Standing Bear saying that Native Americans were, in fact, “persons” under the law. The impact of this landmark decision meant that Native Americans were entitled to sever tribal connections and leave their reservations and were free to enjoy the rights of any other person in the land. This paved the way for United States citizenship for all Native Americans. More information about this case can be found here.

Chief Standing Bear. Photo Credit: National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution

Minnesota

Minnesota, whose name is a Siouan word meaning “cloudy water,” is home to the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area and Voyageurs National Park. This area is the ancestral home of the Monsoni, Assiniboine, Ojibwe, and Dakota Sioux people. The confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers, called “Bdote Minisota,” played a significant role in the creation stories of the Dakota people. Although much of the tribal lands of Minnesota were seized, there are seven Ojibwe reservations and four Dakota Sioux reservations that remain in the state today.

An Ojibwe named Boy Chief, by the noted American painter George Catlin, who made portraits at Fort Snelling, MN in 1835.

While we celebrate the stewardship efforts of our federal land agencies today, it is important that we do not forget the original stewards of these lands. Many tribes were decimated throughout history, but there are still vibrant tribal communities living across the nation and keeping their heritage alive.

An exhibit at Gateway Arch National Park featuring interviews with modern-day Native Americans.