Subscribe to SLJ
Bowllan's Blog
Inside Bowllan's Blog

Writers Against Racism: Shelton Johnson

"Race is the core of this history, the heart of this history," he said. "It shows that the national parks are as much a cultural resource as a natural resource." -Shelton Johnson (comes via SFGate article – Park ranger asks: Where are the black visitors? by Peter Fimrite, Chronicle Staff Writer) 

I saw this quote from an article featuring Park Ranger, Shelton Johnson and I immediately wanted to know more. Thus my Shelton Johnson quest began while reading his thoughts on Race and Wilderness.

The author of Gloryland [Sierra Club/Counterpoint (September 8, 2009)] , a story about the Buffalo soldiers and their contributions to the national parks, and a park ranger, Shelton Johnson speaks candidly about how to bring about social change. "He said in a S.F. Chronicle interview that if Oprah would tour our National Parks, or Snoop Dogg would spend a night singing by a Yosemite campfire, it would help reconnect a group presently disassociated from the natural world. 

That natural world has made Johnson – in my mind – a 21st century pioneer, and an educator, who is plowing  his way through the forgotten areas of history, and filling in the gaps. 

"…the charismatic African-American Yosemite Interpretative Ranger who has recently appeared on Ken Burns’ The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, believes that the facts speak for themselves — that slavery and Jim Crow existed, and that racism has not disappeared."  (via SFGate written by Susan Alcorn)

Kudos to Shelton!

(Sierra Club photo credit)


  1. Sheldon makes me want to become a park ranger, or at least visit Yosemite and listen to him talk about the history of parks. Parks bring peace to people who visit them. Perhaps every inner-city person should spend a few days walking through our country’s natural parkland. Crowding and lack of nature tends to create tension and that has never been good throughout the history of mankind. I was lucky enough to grow up next to a wilderness which gave me space and showed me freedom. And Sheldon has a great point. Instead of heading to the islands, perhaps some of our “beautiful people” could head out to the parks and turn them into hot-spots photographed in the popular magazines. And the peace which comes from visiting such places could spread across the nation. Here’s hoping that more people learn the wonderful history which Sheldon is teaching. I was fascinated. And I’m going to look for his book.

  2. George Edward Stanley says:

    Fascinating story, Sheldon! And I hope Amy’s readers will check out the following website: We’re surrounded by the history of the Buffalo Soldiers in the Lawton-Fort Sill area. Beverly Herrera is talking about the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge just a few miles from Lawton-Fort Sill. We all can (and need to) reconnect with nature. As one who’s lived and studied in Africa, I understand perfectly this connection Sheldon is talking about.

  3. Amy Bowllan says:

    I agree with both of you. I had no prior knowledge about the Buffalo soldiers. They were not taught about in schools and as far as going to the National Parks, I’ve been negligent, too. George it’s amazing how much history Lawton has! Your next novel, THE HISTORY OF LAWTON. :)

  4. True, the history of Lawton is varied and usually ignored. It has soldiers, farms, mountains, wildlife, and everything in between. And everyone should go out into the wilderness, even if it is a controlled experience, to regain perspective. And Sheldon should be guiding us all through it.

  5. Please accept my apologies for not getting your name right, Shelton. I don’t know why I didn’t check that. When I teach journalism I stress the correct spelling of names. I need to listen to my own teaching.

  6. George Edward Stanley says:

    Apologies for my wrong spelling, too! Lots of interesting western history in the area, Amy! For me, this was a fascinating post! Thanks so much, ShelTon!!

  7. George Edward Stanley says:

    Apologies for my wrong spelling, too! Lots of interesting western history in the area, Amy! For me, this was a fascinating post! Thanks so much, ShelTon!!

  8. Kathy Ishizuka, SLJ says:

    He was among the highlights in this series, I think. You should interview him, Amy.

  9. Oh, my goodness — I saw this article, too! And I thought *MAN, is he right?!*

    I immediately hied myself right on to a National Park, thank-you. Now I need to read Gloryland. That’s on my Christmas list.