The Importance of Our National Symbols

south carolina importance of our national symbolsIn the wake of the tragedy in Charleston, Americans have been engaged in a conversation about the histories and meanings of all sorts of symbols. As James Loewen of the University of Vermont points out in his must-read article about myths about the Confederacy, the United States has far more monuments for Confederate soldiers than it does for Union soldiers. And that has helped to shape our understanding of what the Confederacy was—an understanding the nation is only beginning to question and unravel.

And this, of course, brings us to our National Parks System (bear with me). As we’ve written before, the system is looking for ways to diversify its clientele. Most of the people who visit the national parks and monuments are white—a fact which could mean pending doom for the parks system as the American population moves toward being majority-minority.

Turns out part of the system’s problem may be its symbols. The Center for American Progress took a look at the more than 450 national parks and monuments and found less than a quarter of them focus on women, communities of color, or other traditionally underrepresented groups. CAP came up with five recommendations for how Congress can move toward greater inclusivity:

  1. Pass legislation to establish new, inclusive national parks and monuments.
  2. Form a caucus or working group to promote inclusivity in the National Park system.
  3. Hold hearings to highlight the need for inclusivity and identify areas for designation.
  4. Direct the Secretary of the Interior to conduct special resource studies.
  5. Commission a Congressional Research Service report.


Diversifying our national parks and monuments would not only encourage people of different backgrounds to visit, but it would also teach every one of us to appreciate the contributions of all sorts of great Americans.


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