When I applied for a summer job at York River State Park, African-American history was not even a thought in my mind. I needed the money, liked outdoor activities, and the park had an opening. I knew I would be one of very few blacks in the state parks. But, I have been in situations before when I was one of few if not the only one in a group. I was (and am still) not intimidated by that reality.
A few weeks ago, I ran across a few photos from Twin Lakes State Park that helped me appreciate my place in life even more. They were of the blacks who served at Camp Gallion, a Civilian Conservation Corps camp during the Great Depression. These men built roads, fought fires, and did a number of projects to promote the natural resources of Prince Edward County. Inspired, I went to Twin Lakes for their seminars on Camp Gallion and Black Confederate History. My eyes were further opened as the park manager showed me the display of the Prince Edward State Park for Negroes. In order to meet it’s “separate but equal” philosophy, Virginia established a segregated state park with cabins, a conference center, land and water activities, and staffed completely by blacks. Looking at the photos, their faces; it seems like these ladies and gentlemen (of my parent’s and grandparent’s time) loved the work they were doing.
The Jim Crow era was a time of insult for my people and nation as a whole. But, the men and women who worked during this time did so with a sense of pride, honor, and respect. Three characteristics that we don’t see promoted in much of what is going on in our community. It is one thing to talk about the first black woman millionaire or the black man who did the first open heart surgery in our various programs in February. But, a true celebration of Black History Month happens when we dedicate ourselves to live to the best of our history. Take pride in the work you do. Make the best of the opportunities that are available. Live an honest and humble life. That way, when you take a stand for justice, you can walk firmly forward.