Strengthening the Connections Between African Americans and National Parks

Since President Ulysses S. Grant signed the first national park, Yellowstone, into law in 1872, the national parks have provided American citizens and visitors from all over the world unique experiences with nature. The arches of Yellowstone National Park at the park entrance displays the Theodore Roosevelt quote, “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” Despite Roosevelt’s rhetoric, the national parks’ missions have lacked focus towards African Americans for decades.

The first African-American park superintendent, Charles Young, was appointed superintendent of Sequoia National Park in 1903. The next would not be appointed until nearly 70 years later.

Young led the 10th Cavalry Unit, also known as the buffalo soldiers, an all-black regiment. The cavalry became some of the first park rangers, helping to protect the parks and create their infrastructure into what they are today. African Americans played significant roles in the beginning of national park history, but few people know about them. There has been a lack of attention on the historical connections African Americans have with the parks as well as adequate funding directed towards engaging urban communities.

To bring the national parks to African Americans around the United States, Yosemite Park Ranger Shelton Johnson is helping to tell the history of the buffalo soldiers to the current generation.

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