Jason and I are in love with the PBS documentary, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. While we both have wanted to visit many of our country’s national parks, watching this series simply made the desire stronger.
One of the NPS employees featured throughout the series is Shelton Johnson, who became a personal favorite of mine. I was thrilled when I learned that he is a ranger in Yosemite AND when I saw that he would be presenting a program while we vacationed there this summer.
We attended his presentation of This Is America, a short film that focuses on the stories of diverse individuals who influenced the national parks idea. It was beyond incredible to be sitting in a theater in the middle of Yosemite Valley, listening to the thunder of Yosemite Falls, watching this film derived from our beloved PBS series, all in the presence of Shelton Johnson. Amazing!
There was no doubt that I had to buy his book, Gloryland.
Gloryland is the fictional story of Elijah Yancy, a young African American man who leaves his hometown in South Carolina and heads West towards real freedom. He joins the U.S. Calvary and is eventually assigned to Yosemite National Park. It is there where he finds true peace and freedom.
Shelton Johnson’s career in Yosemite has focused on telling the story of the Buffalo Soldiers who patrolled Yosemite in the early 1900’s, and this book is one more outlet for his work. He created the fictional Elijah Yancy for Gloryland, much like he created the fictional Sergeant Elizy Boman for his ranger program in Yosemite.
Apparently, Shelton’s ranger program is amazing…but he wasn’t presenting it this past summer. When one of the people in attendance at This Is America asked why, Shelton’s response stuck with me. As he put it, being in the frame of mind of an African American man at the turn of the last century, after the Civil War but well before the Civil Rights Movement, every single day, really starts to mess with a person after a while. He needed a break from his personal portrayal, but the story still goes on through Gloryland.
Shelton writes with such eloquence. I found myself riveted by the story of Elijah Yancy, just as I had been riveted by Shelton’s stories on America’s Best Idea and in person in Yosemite.
To get a sense of Shelton’s telling of the Buffalo Soldiers’ story, be sure to view The Untold Stories Project: Yosemite’s Buffalo Soldiers video online.