1. Tell us a bit about the general focus of your research. What questions did you initially set out to answer?
My current research looks at the history of African Americans in Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountain National Parks. When I was first started this project I was interested to see why so few African Americans travelled to national parks? I was also curious as to why in the 1930s, the head of the Bureau of Negro Affairs decided to fight to end segregation in national parks, given so few African Americans actually visited these sites?
1. How did your interest in this topic develop?
My biggest advice is to stay organized! Keep track of all of your sources and make sure that you have a set time each day/week to do some research. It is better to be ahead then to fall behind. I also recommend that students start writing early even if it is a rough version. There is nothing worse then sitting up at 5 am trying to crank out thirty pages of your best work. Independent research is a serious endeavor so it must be treated as such.
2. Have you faced any challenges in the course of your research? How have these difficulties affected your project?
This summer I used the Nyhus Travel Grant to visit the National Archives in College Park, Howard University’s Special Collections, and the Regional Archives in Philadelphia. I will use the rest of my Nyhus to visit the Regional Archives in Atlanta during winter break. Most of my sources are government documents and private letters regarding issues behind desegregating national parks. I am also investigating black periodicals and newspapers of the time.
4. Do you have any advice for fellow students who are thinking about undertaking an independent research project?
It is always a challenge to find primary sources on this topic. My research period focuses on a time where illiteracy rates were high among African Americans so most of my sources come either from middle class blacks or white park officials. The type of primary sources I have at my disposal has significantly changed the way I am able to analyze my topic. I wanted to focus on African Americans relationship to national parks, but now I will have to broaden that to why the state wanted to segregate national parks; which is still an interesting question.
3. What sorts of methods and sources have you utilized in researching your topic?
This project has spun out of a year and half of independent research. As an Environmental Studies major I was always curious as to how African Americans fit into environmental history. I became interested in national parks, in particular, after interning with The Wilderness Society (TWS). While at TWS, I met the executive director of the Atlanta branch, who happened to be African American, and he told me that when he and his wife visited different national parks across the country that they were lucky if they saw one African American. This is immediately sparked my interest, why were there not more African Americans visiting national parks?