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Developing Tomorrow's Environmental Leaders Today

YLP Speaker: Shelton Johnson

March 4, 2016 - 3:30am


As an Interpretive Ranger at Yosemite National Park, Shelton is currently researching and interpreting the African American military history within Yosemite National Park.  Specifically, Johnson is focusing on the role of the Buffalo Soldiers, the 9th Cavalry and the 24th Mounted Infantry, in  protecting the national parks.  It is a "work in progress" as he uncovers the layers of  history since 1864,  when President Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant. He wrote and performs a living history performance called Yosemite Through the Eyes of a Buffalo Soldier, 1904, which is presented as an interpretive program at the park and at locations around the country.


Shelton began his career in Yellowstone National Park in 1987; but as of 2015, he has worked in Yosemite for 22 years of his 28-year career!

In 2009, he appeared in the Ken Burns documentary film The National Parks: America's Best Idea, and was called the "unexpected star" of the mini-series. Johnson attended a preview of the film at the White House that day, where he discussed the documentary with President Barack Obama. For his work with Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan on this film, he recieved the National Freeman Tilden Award as the best interpreting ranger in the National park Service!

In 2010 he invited Oprah Winfrey as an icon for the African-American community to visit the parks, to spread "the word that the national parks really are America's best idea, and that this beauty belongs to every American, including African-Americans". In October 2010 she spent two days and a night camping in Yosemite National Park and dedicated two of her shows to the National Parks. In 2010, Johnson was the recipient of Clemson University's William C. Everhart Award "for sustained achievements in interpretation that have illuminated, created insights to, and fostered an appreciation of our cultural and historical heritage."
He is also the author of the historical novel Gloryland, a fictional memoir of a Black Indian from South Carolina who becomes a Buffalo Soldier assigned to patrol Yosemite in 1903.