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Category Archives: back to the land

President Teddy Roosevelt, the founder of our national parks system, said, "the West will not be won until it is rid of the black, the brown, the yellow and red men."  The legacy of segregation lingers in America's parks- only 1% of the visitors to Yosemite last year were African American.  But Shelton Johnson, an African-America Ranger at Yosemite, is trying to make sure all people visit out nation's most beautiful places. You may remember Ranger Johnson from LoE's story on his "interpretive history tours" where he invokes the spirit of the African American buffalo soldiers who defended Yosemite soon after its creation.

Johnson is still beating the drum for African Americans to return to the park- and now Oprah is listening.  On Friday  “The Oprah Winfrey Show" devoted the full hour to a segment that was taped at Yosemite in response to Mr. Johnson’s appeal.  Orpah and Gayle visited some Redwoods, set up camp and took photographs with the one other black patron they saw.  Part 2 of the episode will be broadcast today. 

Ranger Johnson was also featured in the New York Times, where he told them, “every year, America is becoming increasingly diverse, but that diversity is not reflected in the national parks, even though African-Americans and other groups played a vital role in the founding of national parks. If the national parks are America’s playground, then why are we not playing in the most beautiful places in America?”

Beyond broadening the tent of park patrons, the Park Service also hopes to attract a more diverse force of park rangers. It is actively seeking to recruit employees from historically black colleges and universities.  Check out the Park Service site for job opportunities.

For more on the buffalo soliders that helped found Yosemite, check out our article on a House bill raised to honor their legacy.