Did you know that Frederick Douglass was the first African American to be nominated for Vice President of America? I don’t know about you, but I think we sure could use Frederick Douglass in the White House right now. Among many things, he is known as the most prominent African American abolitionist, an accomplished writer, but also a supporter of the women’s suffrage movement. His later years were spent in his D.C home, where he would write his third autobiography, “Life and Times of Frederick Douglass.” Built in the 1850s, the Frederick Douglass home still exists in pristine condition, including the desk where he penned his writings. Like many of the homes of the great American thinkers and politicians, such as Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, or George Washington’s Mt. Vernon, this estate sits upon a hill with a spectacular view, one that would inspire anyone to be introspective. The only difference among the three is that the Frederic Douglass House is a National Historic Site, part of the National Park Service (NPS).
I had the great pleasure of going to the Frederick Douglass home recently. When we walked into the visitor center, I was pleasantly surprised to see a young, African American woman, dressed in the renowned NPS browns. I was doubly excited when another African American woman NPS ranger joined her at the desk. I don’t want to beat everyone’s head with this point over and over again. Well perhaps I do. Seeing NPS rangers of color is still highly unlikely, much like seeing park guests of color. It is my hopes of telling my grandparent’s story as well as my own traveling encounters, that I become part of the growing movement to change this phenomenon. Instantly, I smiled and wanted to speak with Ranger Hall (the youngest one.) I spoke with her about her interests in being a NPS ranger, after I explained my personal story about the documentary. She told me that she majored in History in college and that her school serves as a feeder for some of the local NPS National Historic Sites. That only made sense. There is much more involved in being a ranger than signing people up for tours. Our NPS rangers are understated keepers and interpreters of history.
At the very top of the hill, we met Ranger McCaskill, who would take us on the tour. He was full of energy, and enthusiasm as he counted and figured out how he was going to manage the additional people. There was some confusion about the number of park guests signed up for the tour. Some had missed their time slot, some didn’t sign up. Either way, there were a maximum number of people that can take the tour at one given time, due to the size of the home, and we exceeded the allotted 15. He made it work, as he asked that we stay together. On the front step, he stepped back in time, and took us all on the journey with him. It was quite remarkable. Walking into the home of the Frederick Douglass was nothing less than awe- inspiring with Ranger McCaskill dropping mad knowledge. Even if you think it is something you would not be interested in, trust me, you will. I don’t care if you have been living under a rock.
I was so impressed by his tour, and ability to excite and educate the crowd that I wasn’t sure how or when I would post about this experience. During the tour he stated that he had several Master’s Degrees, which also impressed me tremendously. There is no doubt that he doesn’t know his stuff. His passion for history deserves more than a quick note. After the tour, I spoke with him briefly, and thanked him and asked if would mind if I post my video of him on social media. His card reads, “Making History Alive.” That is quite the understatement. While I was leaving, I thought perhaps the best way to share his enthusiasm about history with others would be to come back and film him on a full tour, and interview him about his service as a NPS ranger, as well as the newly minted Ranger Hall, and any other NPS rangers of color working there. We all need to see and hear more from people like them!