Given that I think the survival of the entire human race is in jeopardy under the current US administration, it’s hard for me to focus on the history and contributions made to this country by my black brothers and sisters and our forebears. Dealing with the cascading assaults upon the pillars of our democracy including mad ravings about the press, judiciary and our populace coming from the highest office in the land, coupled with the health issues of an aging parent put my blog far down on my list. As familiar as I am with the natural and historical landscape of America in national parks from Alaska to Florida, NOTHING prepared me to deal with the current maelstrom.
So it was indeed an incredible relief and boost of assurance to receive this fantastic blog, Revealing the Hidden Figures of Black History in Acadia National Park, including my perspective. When I’m unable to carry out my self-assigned mission and find that it has a life of its own, it’s gratifying indeed.
Acadia was the first national park I ever visited and was the place of my awakening, as I write in Legacy on the Land:
“When we finally reached the top (Cadillac Mountain) it literally took our breath away. We were surrounded by a world so gorgeous and radiant, it could hardly be believed. On one side, the sunlit ocean merged with the infinite sky. On the other side, the sun glinted on a dozen leafy offshore islands, turning the water into gold. Everywhere we looked were large swaths of blue and green…”
I felt as if I’d been living in a mansion and uptil then I’d only seen the kitchen. Suddenly I’d wandered into the grand ballroom, full of art and beauty and wonder. Thankfully, that experience started me on a journey that allows me to see life on the scale of humanity rather than through the artificial constructs of nationality or race. I will do everything in my power to stand up for the rights of all, and I can clearly see that it’s a poor human being who needs to consider himself better than his fellow man or woman. I do not doubt that the aggressors in the current administration will eventually learn that lesson.
I also learned a lot of American history from this Black History Month synopsis from my friends at the NPS:
“Since the start of the American conservation movement, African Americans have responded to the call to preserve and protect our National Treasures. Between 1899 and 1904 approximately 500 African American troops of the 24th Infantry and 9th Calvary served as the first park rangers at Yosemite, Sequoia, and General Grant (Kings Canyon) National Parks. These men, known as the Buffalo Soldiers, were stewards of some of the most beautiful lands that were made accessible to the public under the American conservation movement.
“That same year, Charles Young, an energetic and intelligent West Point graduate who was born into slavery in Kentucky, served as Acting Military Superintendent of Sequoia & General Grant National Park. He was the first African American to ever hold the position of Superintendent of a National Park. Under Young’s leadership, the Buffalo Soldiers achieved more in one summer than what had been accomplished by rangers during the previous three summers. This resulted in a greatly expanded road network within the park.
“In the footsteps of these soldiers, a new generation of African Americans continued to preserve and protect these special places as they came under the auspices of the National Park Service. During the Great Depression, 200,000 African American men participated in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) program where their contributions were many and varied. Due to racial discrimination and legal segregation of the time, African American CCC camps were often placed on federal lands away from hostile population centers. As a result, most of the work they did took place in National Parks. They helped to build the infrastructure at some of our most iconic units including Shenandoah, Gettysburg, and Mammoth Cave.
“Carrying the baton of commitment, James Holmes became the first African American National Park ranger when he began his career at Booker T. Washington National Monument in May of 1958. Four years later, over 40 African American seasonal rangers from Historically Black Colleges joined him in fulfilling the mission of the agency. These students served in positions all over the United States, many of them setting precedence in their employment. One such individual was Robert G. Stanton who served as the first African American ranger at Grand Teton National Park. A year later African American park rangers Gordon Gun drum and Edward Footman, stood watch over Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as he gave his famous “I have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
“The spirit of Charles Young was present when in 1997 Robert G. Stanton made history by becoming the 15th director of the National Park Service. He inspired other African Americans to reach for new heights by taking on more leadership positions within the agency. Since that time African Americans have continued on the march towards progress in different divisions. In recent years, the NPS has welcomed the first African American Superintendents of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Buffalo National River, and Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. Also for the first time a woman and an African American, holds the positon of Chief Historian for the entire agency. . .”
American history is black history, and Native American and Asian and Hispanic and white history. ALL of us contributed to getting us to where we are today, and all of us need to work together for the America we will become. It behooves us to remember that as we deal with this administration.