A lesser-known fact about several national parks in the U.S. is the efforts of the black complexioned people that have gone behind establishing equal opportunities for employment and entertainment of the Black People in the parks. The chief historian of the National Park Service, Turkiya Lowe is the first woman and the first Black American to hold the position. The National Park Service interprets the Black American history via 62 national parks and hundreds of sites dedicated to celebrating the US National Heritage. According to Turkiya Lowe, besides building lasting connections of people to their heritages, the Americans “also need to see the various ways that historical events have legacies and relevance to their current lives.”

In 1962, Robert G. Stanton was recruited as the first black seasonal rangers at Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park and in 1970; he became the first black superintendent at another national park. As per his records, there was minimal recognition done for the Blacks when he was first recruited in 1962. “We still have a long way to go to capture the richness of our struggle and our contributions,” says Stanton who was also the first Black director of the NPS in 1988.

According to Lowe, more stories will bring out the greater depth in the history of colourism but it’s unnecessary and the present need calls for continued engagement and outreach of the NPS with communities of colour.

Buffalo Soldiers

Captain Charles Young was the third American of colour who graduated from the military academy at West Point. He was dispatched as the commander of the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments and alongwith an all-black unit of about 400 people, known as the Buffalo Soldiers, they patrolled areas of Presidio, San Francisco and performed duties similar to the duties of the present national park rangers.

Other black Americans like the former slave Stephen Bishop explored caverns at the Mammoth Caves. In 1933 a naturalist of Hispanic origin, George Melendez Wright, was recruited at the NPS Wildlife Division’s first chief. He promoted a number of policies to encourage ecological balance. Selena LeMarr was an interpretive ranger who made sure to keep up local customs alive as local people have a traumatic history of displacement by national parks.  Another former slave, Lancelot Jones, worked to preserve the environment when developers attempted to create a resort community on the Biscayne Bay. Later the site was designated to be a national park.

Honorary Sites for the pioneering heroes As the first national monument of his administration, U.S. President Barack Obama, in 2011, designated Fort Monroe of Virginia. This fort is known as the Freedom’s Fortress as this was the place where the first African captive slaves arrived in 1619, where three fugitive slaves on the run turned themselves to the Union Army and where thousands of runaways would take refuge. Obama designated 26 sites throughout his term of office, the highest by any American President, these sites would honour the pioneering heroes, rich history and spectacular landscapes to be enjoyed by next-generation Americans.

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