Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Thesis



First Advisor

Kirstin Dow


The Wilderness Act of 1964 limits acceptable activities in federally designated wilderness areas to those associated with leisure, scenic viewing, education and scientific inquiry. These stipulations, which privileged the interests of the early environmental movement’s elite white leaders and disregarded uses valued by racial/ethnic minorities and working class groups, continue to inform wilderness management in national parks. This legacy of exclusion is evidenced by national park visitation statistics showing overrepresentation1 of whites and underrepresentation of African Americans (Meeker, Woods, & Lucas, 1973; P. A. Taylor, Grandjean, & Gramann, 2011). The purpose of this study is to understand how wilderness management at Congaree National Park (CNP) impacts local African Americans’ traditional fishing activities, how fishers perceive those impacts and the implications for visitation. Through participant observation, semi-structured interviews and document analysis, I discovered how a landscape supporting the livelihoods and social bonding of community members became fractured and restricted when it was designated as federal wilderness. This institutional landscape enacted racial and class biases embedded in the Wilderness Act through policies which banned or limited traditional fishing practices while supporting and promoting activities associated with the park’s white visitors. Resultantly, most fishers perceived park policies as discriminatory and adjusted their recreation behaviors in a variety of ways. This study contributes to literatures examining the reasons for high rates of nonvisitation to national parks among African Americans as well as African American environmental relations and justice issues beyond those associated with urban industrial pollution. It also calls attention to how open-ended historical and place processes aid in the production racialized spaces in national parks.


© 2015, Janae Davis

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