Great Smokies recognizes its first African American naturalist
On Aug. 29, Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Cassius Cash had the unique opportunity to meet and recognize Dr. Joe Lee, of Jupiter, Florida, for his service as the first African American Park Naturalist. Superintendent Cash presented Dr. Lee with a mounted ranger hat in honor of his contribution to the history of the National Park Service.
“We were overwhelmed with excitement when Dr. Lee reached out to park staff last week to share his recollections of working in the park,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash. “His service fifty years ago broke employment barriers that once discouraged people of color from seeking employment in National Parks. He stepped bravely into unknown territory and paved a path for people like me to follow in his footsteps.”
The Superintendent also presented Dr. Lee with a framed photograph of all the park naturalists working in 1967, including two additional African Americans who are now deceased. Dr. Lee shared memories of his park service journey with high school students, public officials, and the media at an event held today at William T. Dwyer High School in Jupiter, Florida.
“I am overwhelmed that officials from the park would come to see me in the twilight of my life and recognize me as a trailblazer by being the first African American Park Ranger Naturalist in the Smokies,” said Dr. Joe Lee. “I have a deep, abiding respect for Superintendent Cash for following up on the call I made about my time as a Park Ranger. Now, I have proof for my grandchildren and their children about my time in the Great Smokies.”
The park has recently embarked in an effort to better understand, share, and preserve the rich history of African Americans who lived in and around the southern Appalachian mountain region, both before and after the establishment of the park.
Information provided by NPS