Landscapes of Exclusion: State Parks and Jim Crow in the American South
William E. O’Brien
University of Massachusetts Press in association with LALH
Winner, J. B. Jackson Book Prize from the Foundation for Landscape Studies
Winner, American Association for State and Local History Award of Merit
An outgrowth of earlier park movements, the state park movement in the twentieth century sought to expand public access to scenic places. But under severe Jim Crow restrictions in the South, access for African Americans was routinely and officially denied. The New Deal brought a massive wave of state park expansion, and advocacy groups pressured the National Park Service to design and construct segregated facilities for African Americans. These parks were typically substandard in relation to “white only” areas.
After World War II, the NAACP filed federal lawsuits that demanded park integration, and southern park agencies reacted with attempts to expand access to additional segregated facilities, hoping they could demonstrate that their parks achieved the “separate but equal” standard. But the courts consistently ruled in favor of integration, leading to the end of state park segregation by the mid-1960s. Even though it has largely faded from public awareness, the imprint of segregated state park design remains visible throughout the South.
William E. O’Brien illuminates this untold facet of Jim Crow history in the first-ever study of state park segregation. Emphasizing the historical trajectory of events leading to integration, his book underscores the profound inequality that persisted for decades in the number, size, and quality of state park spaces provided for black visitors across the Jim Crow South.
WILLIAM E. O’BRIEN, Ph.D., is an associate professor of environmental studies at the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College of Florida Atlantic University. His work on environment and race has appeared in journals including Historical Geography, Geographical Review, Human Ecology, Journal of Geography, and Ethics, Place and Environment. He is a 2014 recipient of the University Award for Excellence and Innovation in Undergraduate Teaching.
“O’Brien has completed a remarkable work of scholarship in landscape history that makes it possible for us, finally, to understand this formerly obscured, but clearly significant, category of American parks, those created under the ‘separate but equal’ doctrine.”
— Ethan Carr, author of Mission 66: Modernism and the National Park Dilemma