First African-American Park Service Director Reflects On Places We Preserve (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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First African-American Park Service Director Reflects On Places We Preserve

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
The man we'll meet next has wracked up an impressive series of firsts. In 1962, he became one of the nations first African-American park rangers. And nearly 40 years later, he was called out of retirement to serve as the director of the National Park Service under then, President Bill Clinton, making him the very first African-American to hold that position. Robert Stanton currently serves as a senior advisor to the Secretary of the Interior. But he says, he'll be retiring again at the end of the month.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:33
Environment reporter, Jonathan Wilson, met up with Stanton at Lincoln Park on Capitol Hill. In the shadow of the Mary McLeod Bethune Memorial, to talk about how Stanton got his start in public service and how the park service, and the country, have changed since then.

MR. ROBERT G. STANTON

00:00:47
I first worked with the National Park Service while I was still in undergraduate school. I attended a historically black university in Austin, Texas. And I was on the Capitol at the time that I was recruiting for a seasonal park ranger in Grand Teton National Park. And I might add that that was only made possible through the courageous leadership, of then, Secretary of the Interior, The Honorable Stewart Lee Udall. And this was in 1962, which predated the Civil Rights Act of '64. So he took the initiative well in advance of the Civil Rights Act.

MR. JONATHAN WILSON

00:01:23
You, again, have had a long career. One of the things that you are known for is advocating diversity in the civil workforce and, obviously, in the park service. You've accomplished a lot. As you look back in Austin or back in Wyoming, even, do you see yourself as a young man and say, I was -- I was aiming for these things?

STANTON

00:01:42
Truth -- at a latter point that you made, no I was not aiming for these things. I grew up in segregated, "Jim Crow" Texas, in which there were limited opportunities, educationally, employment, access to public accommodations and what have you. So the outlook on new careers, if you will, were very limited. But I was given the opportunity to be one of the first African-Americans selected as a Park Ranger in some of our great National Parks under the leadership of Stewart Lee Udall.

STANTON

00:02:14
And that widen my view about career opportunities. But I must also submit that there was a lot of encouragement and a lot of help along the way. And the faculty and the administrative, in particular, the President of the college, at that time, Dr. J.J. Seabrook really encouraged me to accept this new opportunity as a seasonal ranger and that provided an opportunity for me to look at the National Park Service as a career agency.

WILSON

00:02:41
Needless to say, it's been a long time since you started your first job.

STANTON

00:02:45
Very long time.

WILSON

00:02:47
You've seen a lot of changes, not just in the agency or the Department of the Interior or the National Park Service but, I imagine, throughout the country, do you still feel the same? I know a lot of people talk about, well, you know, I still feel like I was when I was 25 years old. Do you still feel the same way?

STANTON

00:03:04
I still feel the same way but the old body doesn't perform in the same way. I continuously excited about the opportunities and the experiences afforded by the National Parks and the National Park Service. So I hope that I will continue to be able to make some contributions in academia and work with civic organizations, in particular, our youth organization and creating a better understanding between all of our citizens with the richness of our National Parks.

STANTON

00:03:35
But I must also tell you that, what has kept me motivated, is that the growth of the National Park system, which now is constituted by 401 parks, from the South Pacific to Maine, from Alaska to the U.S. Virgin Islands. But from a personal perspective, what has kept me motivated -- continually keep me motivated is the recognition of the contributions African-Americans have made to this country. When I first donned the Park Service uniform in Grand Teton National Park in June of 1962, there had only been three areas authorized by Pacific Act of Congress, commemorated the contributions of African-Americans.

STANTON

00:04:22
There's Booker T. Washington in Virginia, Joy Washington Carver, his birthplace in Missouri and the authorization for the National Council of Negro Women to construct this memorial, to adopt the Bethune. But proudly today, there are now 28 areas in the National Park system that specifically commemorate African-Americans, or major events associated with African-Americans, such as Selma To Montgomery Historical Trail, Brown v. Board of Education, Little Rock Central High School, Tuskegee Airman.

STANTON

00:04:54
All of those have continued to give me a great deal of inspiration, because the hand-me-down textbooks that I had as a youngster growing up in segregated Texas did not reflect our rich contribution.

SHEIR

00:05:07
That was Robert Stanton, former head of the National Park Service, talking with Environment Reporter, Jonathan Wilson.
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