February 22, 2013

Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith… Hebrews 12:1, 2

February is Black History Month, and a good time to again talk about the Buffalo Soldiers who, like their white counterparts in western U.S. Army regiments, were among the first national park rangers. These black soldiers fought in the Indian Wars, and were given their name by the Cheyenne and other Plains Indians, who thought their hair resembled the matted cushion between a buffalo’s horns.

About 500 Buffalo Soldiers served in Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks, and you can read more about them here and here. (If you’re interested in learning more about African American history as commemorated by the National Park Service, check out this site. The federal government also maintains a website about black history.)

Shelton Johnson, a ranger at Yosemite, portrays a Buffalo Soldier in a one-man show, and you can view a clip from it here. You may recall that Mr. Johnson had a big part in Ken Burns’ series on the national parks, and his story is an interesting one. If you search for both of these names in this blog, you’ll see that I’ve written about them before.

But I came across something about Mr. Johnson the other day I hadn’t seen. He’s featured in a video on the website of the National Parks Conservation Association, a parks advocacy group. The video’s introduction says, “Although our national parks belong to all Americans, it’s a sad fact that very few people of color ever set foot in some of our country’s most beautiful places. Take a journey to Yosemite National Park with the Amazing Grace 50+ Club, a Los Angeles-based senior church group whose members are looking to reverse that trend.”

Blacks are less likely to visit national parks, Mr. Johnson believes, because of a negative association toward wilderness, because they connect it with slavery and working the land. And yet—here is a positive piece of black history right in Yosemite! As a matter of fact, one of the women in the seniors group had a grandfather who was a Buffalo Soldier! You can see in the video how touched she was to relive a little of his experience.

The painful events of our past often intrude on the present. Sometimes it’s a fight not to let them hamper what we think, say and do now. But God provided a remedy for that tendency—He sent His Son to free us from the shackles that try to drag us down and rob us of the peace and joy He wants us to have (Psalm 16:11; John 10:10, 16:33).

Reconciliation with God brings reconciliation with the past (2 Corinthians 5:17-21), a decisive change that generates ongoing grace to redeem all that has gone before and all that will come—an historical fact that’s good to know every day and every month of the year!

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