Shelton Johnson
Author: Glenn Nelson
2021

Shelton Johnson

Park Ranger

Beyond the Urban Horizon: Shelton Johnson’s Wild Calling

meet shelton

Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, Shelton Johnson attended Cass Tech High School and graduated from the University of Michigan. He served in the Peace Corps in Kakata, Liberia, and West Africa. Then he attended graduate school at the University of Michigan. He has worked for the National Park Service as a park ranger for well over 30 years, serving in Yellowstone, Washington, D.C., Great Basin, and now Yosemite National Park.

Beyond the Urban Horizon: Shelton Johnson’s Wild Calling
Nominated by: Richard Wiese FN'89
Class of 2021 Location Yosemite National Park, USA
Author: Craig Kohlruss

My work is pushing boundaries because most of my career has been spent in wilderness parks such as Yellowstone and Yosemite. While most African Americans have their National Park Service careers in urban or rural areas, I became the chosen one to interpret the Buffalo Soldiers of the Sierra Nevada, which I used as a tool to connect African Americans culturally to their National Parks.

“I have proven that African Americans can excel in remote national parks, and through that success challenge stereotypes that are rooted more in fiction than in fact. My work has opened a door that other African Americans can walk through with fewer obstacles than what I encountered.”

- Shelton Johnson

Over the last 20 years, I have transformed a formerly forgotten history that was nationally and internationally significant to its rightful place in our consciousness. African American soldiers protected Yosemite and Sequoia in 1899, 1903, and 1904, over a decade before the creation of the National Park Service in 1916. These soldiers essentially served as some of the first “park rangers” in the world. This new awareness was created by using the media. In Ken Burns’ PBS documentary film, “The National Parks, America’s Best Idea,” we reached over 30 million Americans in its original 2009 national broadcast. I was invited to a special screening at the White House for President Barack Obama in September 2009. A subsequent Oprah Winfrey Show reached over 40 million Americans.

I have proven that African Americans can excel in remote national parks, and through that success challenge stereotypes that are rooted more in fiction than in fact. My work has opened a door that other African Americans can walk through with fewer obstacles than what I encountered.

never stop exploring

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