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The U.S. National Park Service Grapples With Its Racist Origins

At its milestone centennial, the National Park Service wrestles with how to diversify its visitors and workforce.
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Brennan Linsley/AP

Looking over the National Park Service’s first 100 years, we find a federal agency that, like many U.S. institutions, got off to a severely rocky start in terms of racial inclusion. These national parks were carved out, in large part, as sanctuaries for people to retreat to from what they considered the growing scourge of urbanization. Native Americans were fought off of their sacred tribal lands so that white men could recreate, hike, hunt, and fish in these places at their own leisure. This probably isn’t the most glowing piece of trivia to share on the park service’s 100th birthday, but you really can’t discuss the system’s birth without this context.  

More recently, the NPS has been reaching for some semblance of racial reconciliation. As an agency, it acknowledges it has problems with diversity and inclusion to solve, but it seems uncertain about how to do that. For example, it doesn’t quite know what to do with a guy like Madison Grant, a white man who quite literally wrote the book on 20th-century white supremacy—and who helped launch the national parks movement.