On Thursday, August 29, Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Cassius Cash
recognized Dr. Joe Lee, Talladega College Class of 1968, for his service as the first African American Park Naturalist. Superintendent Cash presented Dr. Lee with a mounted ranger hat in honor of his contribution to the history of the National Park Service.
Superintendent Cash stated that “His service fifty years ago broke employment barriers that once discouraged people of color from seeking employment in National Parks. He stepped bravely into unknown territory and paved a path for people like me to follow in his footsteps.”
The Superintendent also presented Dr. Lee with a framed photograph of all the park naturalists working in 1967, including two additional African Americans. Dr. Lee shared memories of his park service journey with high school students, public officials, and the media at an event held at William T. Dwyer High School in Jupiter, FL.
“I am overwhelmed that officials from the park would come to see me in the twilight of my life and recognize me as a trailblazer by being the first African American Park Ranger Naturalist in the Smokies,” said Dr. Joe Lee. “I have a deep, abiding respect for Superintendent Cash for following up on the call I made about my time as a Park Ranger. Now, I have proof for my grandchildren and their children about my time in the Great Smokies.”
Dr. Lee, who resides in Juniper, Florida, remains active in supporting Talladega College and its associations.
The park has recently embarked in an effort to better understand, share, and preserve the rich history of African Americans who lived in and around the southern Appalachian mountain region, both before and after the establishment of the park. The National Park Service (NPS) strives to preserve the history of all people across the nation. Through this important project, the park is uncovering untold stories of African Americans who visited, lived, and worked in this region.