Monday, November 01, 2010

How Divided We Remain
This week, Oprah Windfrey and producer/friend Gayle travel to Yosemite National Park; Ranger Shelton Johnson invited and welcomed her: National parks have room for all races -
Some readers may be stunned to learn that this well-traveled celebrity had never before visited a national park. Most people of color won't be.
As the only African American permanent ranger in Yosemite National Park in California, I often lament that I'm more likely to meet visitors from Japan or France than I am to see an African-American family from nearby Sacramento or Oakland.
Think about that for awhile. Think about what Oprah, and too many Black Americans, have missed.

Never visited Gettysburg National Military Park, premier monument to the battle and war that eliminated slavery.

Never been Yellowstone, or Grand canyon, Arches, or Death Valley to see the awesome landscapes which make up our nation, formed the character of our western states, fueled the movement for preserving our natural, cultural, historic and wilderness treasures.

Never took in the beauty and relaxation, and communal escape we take for granted at Cape Hateras and the Outer Banks, Assateague, Cape Cod, Indiana Dunes, Gulf Islands, or any of our extraordinary national seashores and lakeshores.

Never met any of the incredible rangers, guides, and interpreters who tell our national story all across the land; who bring to life what is so dull in the history texts, who say to us, "You stand now on the ground where John Brown launched the War Between the States, where he died, a critical weapons and supply hub for the entire war."

Never heard the echoes of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B Anthony as they called for voting rights for women. Stood in the workplace of Booker T. Washington.

Never saw in person the magnificent patriotic sculptures of Mount Rushmore. The petroglyphs of New Mexico. The otherworldly experience of Mammoth Caves. The Mounds of the Hopewell Culture or the cliff dwellings of the Chaco Canyon parks.

Never took in the migration experience of our national historic trails: Nachez, and Lewis&Clark, Oregon, Sante Fe, Chesapeake&Ohio, the Trail of Tears.

Never experienced our formative colonial experiences as they are played out at Williambsurg, Mount Vernon, Boston NP, Indepedence NHP.

Never looked out over the Shenandoah Valley and the Atlantic Piedmont from the lofty mountains and twisty roads of Shenandoah NP and the Blue Ridge Parkway, or shared Americans favorite family escape, Smoky Mountains National Park.

And I'm nowhere near the end of the list.

Maybe I over-read the original statement. Maybe by "National Parks", Ranger Johnson and Oprah really meant it in the strictest form. She's been to national monuments and historic sites, national battlefields, military parks, or seashores. Maybe its just the biggest treasures of them all she's missed, Yellowstone and Badlands and Everglades and Rocky Mountain, Grand canyon, Mount Rainier, Hawaii Volcano, Cuyahoga Valley, Capitol Reef. Still,...

Think about it. For twenty five years, Oprah has been considered the preeminent guide, leader, philanthropist, voice for America's women, Blacks, and others.

She's never experienced any of what really binds us together, beyond Baseball and watching CNN, beyond Family Guy and Lady Gaga. She's never seen experienced any of what really makes us a common people across the generations, from sea to shining sea.

Never have most African Americans, it seems.

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