Black History Trails


Before there was a Hollywood or a Wall Street or a Broadway, Black pioneers and founders were crisscrossing America, leaving markers and trails that would become a part of the texture of America.

Among the American founding fathers and mothers who created indelible trails in these years were Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable, who founded Chicago before the Revolutionary War; William Alexander Leidesdorf, who was one of the first citizens of San Francisco; and the 26 or so African-Americans who were among the 44 founders of Los Angeles, Calif.

Since that time, new pioneers have created new trails and markers, including jazz trails, blues trails, gospel trails and civil rights trails that help define the 20th century.

The trails created by the unsung Black founders extend from one end of the country to the other, from Centralia, Wash., which was founded by George Washington, a Black pioneer in the West, to Jamestown, Va., where in 1619, 20 Black founding fathers and mothers landed, a year before the arrival of the Mayflower. These trails should be explored by Black citizens and travelers in Black History Month, which should be celebrated 12 months a year.

One of the major modern trails, the Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March Trail, is already designated as an All-American Road and commemorates one of the premier civil rights protests in American history and its lasting influences on the social and political life of the United States. The Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail consists of 54 miles of city streets and the United States Highway 80 from Selma to the capitol in Montgomery, Ala. It's designed to "maintain, enhance, and interpret" the national historic significance of the 1965 Voting Rights March as a legacy to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and all who marched along the route to fight for voting rights legislation.

Within recent years, local, state and federal agencies have focused national attention on these trails as tourist attractions and highways to the American past and future. The most important of these programs is the White House Millennium Trails Program which, in association with the Department of Transportation, is highlighting national trails, including a number of African-American trails. Secretary of Transportation Rodney E. Slater says funding for the new trails project as well as the extension, completion and enhancement of existing trails, will come in part from the new Transportation Equity Act.

Secretary Slater and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, coordinator of the White House Millennium effort, are urging Americans to recognize and celebrate existing trails and to seek out and create new trails in their neighborhoods and communities.

"The White House Millennium Council's Millennium Trails project reinforces the connection between people, their land, and their history and culture," says First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. "Through millennium trails, more Americans will be connected to our past. On the Underground Railroad, for example, you can experience the journey of Harriet Tubman, who risked her life to bring slaves to freedom. By recognizing such trails, more Americans will have the chance to really think through what is important to us about our country and how we want to work together to clear a path to our future.

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