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Welcome to Day # 222 of our “365 Parks in 365 Days” adventure

Senior Vice President of Community Partnerships at the National Park Foundation, Julie Williams and Robeson Residence

Senior Vice President of Community Partnerships at the National Park Foundation, Julie Williams and Robeson Residence

Welcome to Day # 222 of our “365 Parks in 365 Days” adventure

As Senior Vice President of Community Partnerships at the National Park Foundation, Julie Williams will use her formidable coalition-building skills to help realize a more inclusive National Park System.

Robeson Residence at 555 Edgecombe Avenue in New York City is a National Historic Landmark. His apartment is not open to the public. Wiki Photo.


This feels as close to THE DAY I’ve been working toward as any in our 18-year “toil in the vineyards.” We have made the turn and are on our way to the top of that shining hill where all Americans are enthralled by our national treasures in our National Park, Forest and Wildlife Refuge systems.

The source of my euphoria is this press release from the National Park Foundation:

Today, Neil Mulholland, President and CEO of the National Park Foundation, the official charity of America’s national parks, welcomed Julie Williams to her new role as the Foundation’s Senior Vice President of Community Partnerships. In this role, Williams will oversee efforts to grow and enrich the national park community by strengthening and building relationships with local and national park partners and ensuring that the national parks depict a more inclusive story of American history.  Williams will lead the Foundation’s efforts in bolstering local park Friends Groups, as well as elevating the multicultural experience in our national parks through the African American Experience Fund, and American Latino Heritage Fund. Williams will be based out of the Foundation’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.. .”

The caliber of leadership that Julie displayed as SVP of the Center for Park Management at NPCA, her astuteness and natural tendency to be inclusive speaks volumes for her ability to achieve the goals for which she’s been hired. The fact that the NPF saw fit to hire someone like Julie, with the demonstrated ability to get things done in this arena, speaks volumes about their commitment to action instead of rhetoric. As more people learn about our national parks, inevitably they will also learn about our forests and refuges. Wow. Once again I’m in heaven and I didn’t  have to die!

In honor of this moment, I feel as if the ancestors are saying, “Well done.” I see abolitionists Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass; Quakers Thomas and Margaret Garrett and Levi Coffin, who helped almost 5000 enslaved people to freedom at the risk of their own lives, and countless others down through the ages who have stepped up and done their part to uphold the American ideal, “liberty and justice for all. . .” Julie’s adroit leadership will get us ever closer, as I truly believe that the answer to so many of our challenges lie in our National Park System that shows the roles every racial and ethnic group played in the development of our country.

The announcement already helped me, as it sent me looking for parks that tell the story of the contributions of Americans of African descent. The first thing I found was news to me – that the apartment in which our beloved and esteemed Paul Robeson lived in New York City is part of the National Park Service Civil Rights tour and a National Historic Landmark.

According to the Park Service “National Historic Landmarks are exceptional places. They form a common bond between all Americans. While there are many historic places across the nation, only a small number have meaning to all Americans–these we call our National Historic Landmarks.” Who knew?

The thought that I might ever be able to go into the place where Paul Robeson lived and feel his energy there gives me shivers of joy, but at this time his apartment is not open to the public.

The eminent and heroic Mr. Robeson’s words speak for him on this day when I feel we are on the road to victory for equality, for the triumph of the human spirit:

“. . .the artist must elect to fight for freedom or for slavery. I have made my choice. I have no alternative.”

Called before McCarthy’s House Committee on  Un-American Activities, HUAC

June 12, 1956, Paul Robeson came straight to the point,  “You Are the Un-Americans, and You Ought to be Ashamed of Yourselves.”

Here;s how the website tells the story:

“Paul Robeson (1898-1976), actor, singer, civil rights advocate

“The “Renaissance man” who lived in this apartment was renowned for his rich baritone voice, superb acting ability, and passionate zeal for racial and human justice. Robeson and his family lived in an apartment in this 13 story apartment building from 1939-1941, upon his return from living and performing in Europe.

“Paul Robeson was a gifted student and athlete while attending Rutgers University in New Jersey. He was a brilliant Phi Beta Kappa student, two time All American football player (1917-1918), and won honors in debating and oratory. He graduated from Columbia Law School but gave up law to pursue a career in singing and acting. Robeson performed on Broadway, and is noted for his leading roles in Othello and Eugene O’Neill’s play, Emperor Jones, and his stunning rendition of the song ‘Ole Man River’ in the musical Showboat.

“In 1934, he visited the Soviet Union, where he felt fully accepted as a black artist. During World War II, he entertained troops at the front and sang battle songs on the radio. Despite his war efforts, he was labeled ‘subversive’ by McCarthyites, who were wary of his earlier trip to the Soviet Union, his support of the 1947 St. Louis picketing against segregation of black actors and a Panama effort to organize the mostly-black Panamanian workers.

“Robeson began receiving death threats from the Ku Klux Klan while campaigning for the Progressive Party candidate in the 1948 presidential election. When he publicly opposed the Cold War, even the national secretary of the NAACP questioned his loyalty as an American. Connecticut state officials also went to court to prevent him from visiting his family home in Enfield.

“Undaunted, Robeson formally denounced the action and on August 27, 1949, traveled to Peekskill, New York, to sing before a group of African American and Jewish trade unionists. A KKK-led riot canceled the concert but Robeson returned the following week with 25,000 supporters. A ‘human wall’ protected Robeson while he sang, though afterwards many of the concert goers were ambushed and beaten while local police and state troopers stood by.

“In March 1950, NBC barred Robeson from appearing on a television show with Eleanor Roosevelt. Concert halls closed their doors to him, and his records began to disappear from stores. After eight years, an international outcry, and the Supreme Court’s reversal of the same situation for the artist Rockwell Kent in 1958, Robeson won.

In 1937, Robeson wrote, ‘the artist must elect to fight for freedom or for slavery. I have made my choice. I have no alternative.’ He continued this fight for freedom, both political and artistic, until his death in 1976.

“The Paul Robeson Residence, a National Historic Landmark, is located at 555 Edgecombe Avenue in New York City. His apartment is not open to the public

“Yes, Mr. Robeson! Thank you for the foundation you laid that Julie and every one of us can build upon in our daily lives.  We support the cause of freedom and will take a stand wherever necessary so that our country indeed becomes the “shining city on a hill. . .”

If you’ve missed any of our “365 Parks in 365 Days” adventures, find them here  (Archive)

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