During the 1930s, the state park movement and the National Park Service expanded public access to scenic American places, especially during the era of the New Deal. However, under severe Jim Crow restrictions in the South, African Americans were routinely and officially denied entrance to these supposedly shared sites. In response, advocacy groups pressured the National Park Service to provide some facilities for African Americans. William O'Brien shows that these parks were typically substandard in relation to whites only areas. As the NAACP filed federal lawsuits that demanded park integration and increased pressure on park officials, southern park agencies reacted with attempts to expand segregated facilities, hoping they could demonstrate that these parks achieved the separate but equal standard. But the courts consistently ruled in favour of integration, leading to the end of segregated state parks by the middle of the 1960s. Even though the stories behind these largely inferior facilities faded from public awareness, the imprint of segregated state park design remains visible throughout the South. O'Brien illuminates this untold facet of Jim Crow history in the first-ever study of segregation in southern state parks. His new book underscores the profound inequality that persisted for decades in the number, size, and quality of state parks provided for black visitors in the Jim Crow South.
William E. O'Brien is associate professor of environmental studies at the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College of Florida Atlantic University, USA.