When Echoes of the Past Reverberate into the Future:
A Story of Salvation, Hope, Purpose, and Kinship at First Landing State Park
During Black History Month, we often reflect on people and places and the impacts they made or significance they held as it relates to events past. However, the story I want to share is one that crosses many generations and continues today.
The is the story of two people, born nearly 50 years apart, who in the land, now known as First Landing State Park found kinship, salvation, hope, and purpose. It is the story of kinship and friendship between Mr. Norman Claiborne, a 1940-1942 African American Civilian Conservation Corps member and Ms. Kim Miller, currently First Landing State Park’s Special Events and Volunteer Coordinator.
Kim Miller and Norman Claiborne, born nearly 50 years apart, are kindred spirits in their love of the outdoors.
African Americans bring their own history, heritage and unique perspective to the outdoors. On the one hand, Dianne D. Glave, author of “Rooted in the Earth: Reclaiming an African American Environmental Heritage” says, “Forests and Farms existed in the shadows of slavery. Nature, therefore, could be a forbidding place.” On the other hand, Glave says, “African Americans actively sought healing, kinship, resources, escape, refuge, and salvation in the land.”
This story of kinship,refuge, salvation and healingbegins when Mr. Claiborne boarded the bus that would take him to the new African American Civilian Conservation Corps camp at Seashore (now First Landing) State Park in 1940. While the park was already open for visitors, this group of young men would continue to work on cabins, roads, and hiking trails learning valuable trade skills and getting an education.
Civilian Conservation Corps Companies were run in a quasi-military style. (Photo from Library of Congress Archives)
Landing a billet in the Civilian Conservation Corps meant salvation for Mr. Claiborne’s large family in the waning days of the Great Depression. The meager $25 a month salary, of which Mr. Claiborne only got $5, the balance being sent directly to his family, meant salvation for this family in the form of food on the table, shoes on their feet, and most importantly hope for the future.
Kim’s story begins when “dressed to the nines” in a business suit, she interviewed with us for a part-time job coordinating what would become an internationally televised event, the re-enactment of the 400th Anniversary of the First Landing of the Virginia Company colonists at First Landing State Park in April 2007.
Kim and I hanging out with "Christopher Newport" during First Landing re-enactment rehearsals.
Coming from a fast-paced corporate background, Kim was looking to scale back her role in the “rat race” and work part-time to spend more time with her three girls. During our interview, I took Kim on a hike around the Bald Cypress Trail and was so overwhelmed with her qualifications that I knew she was the right person for the job. I didn’t even notice her high heels! But I did notice a bit of trepidation on Kim’s face when I mentioned that avoiding venomous snakes and biting insects were a regular part of the job!
Having overcome her fear of snakes, Kim is now an avid outdoors woman.
Kim has now been with the park for nearly seven years and has not only overcome any fear of snakes, but has forged her own connection with the outdoors. She now promotes stewardship ethics through her job by planning special events like the Fall Festival.
For Kim,parks and outdoor stewardship have become a family affair. Kim'sparents are both registered volunteers and her daughters regularly participate in volunteer and special events. In fact, on February 28, 2013 from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., Kim will be hosting a new volunteer orientation athere to register as a volunteer online.
Virginia State Parks Youth Service Corps and Youth Conservation Corps are modeled on the historic Civilian Conservation Corps program. Guided kayak trips, guided hikes, and hard work are part of this paid summer work program for teens.
Kim and Mr. Claiborne’s stories come together in 2006 when as a guest speaker at First Landing State Park’s 70th Anniversary event he pleaded with park staff to advocate for an historic marker recognizing the contributions of the African American Civilian Conservation Corps. Finding a close connection with Kim, someone who developed a love for the outdoors on the job, Mr. Claiborne extracted a promise from Kim to have that historic marker in place by the park’s 75th anniversary.
After months of research, advocacy, and fundraising that involved theVirginia Department of Historical Resources, Kim fulfilled her promise to Mr. Claiborne and the historic marker was placed in front of the park office at the Chesapeake Bay Center.
Mr. Claiborne, his children, and grandchildren post at the historic marker.
In 2013, after a five-year planning process with which Kim was involved, First Landing State Park opened new museum-quality exhibits at the new Trail Center, a silver-level LEED certified building. Part of those exhibits feature information about the African American Civilian Conservation Corps campsand the park’s role in desegregation lawsuits.
Mr. Claiborne participated in the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new Trail Center in January 2013. The Trail Center features exhibits, meeting rooms, gift shop, and outdoor deck.
Mr. Claiborne,pride shining in his eyes, standing tall at 93 years of ageunderstood that this exhibit was our way of saying thank you to him and to all the Civilian Conservation Corps members who helped build our nation’s national and state park systems. In some ways, I see the Civilian Conservation Corps exhibits at the Trail Center as a symbol of Mr. Claiborne passing the stewardship torch on to all the visitors that come to the park.
Mr. Claiborne's legacy and the legacy of all CCC members is memorialized in the new Trail Center exhibits featuring both historical and natural aspects of the park.
The fact thatMr. Claibornehas stayed in contact with the park in his retirement years, makes an effort at 93 years old to come to park events, and often takes the time to talk with staff about his love of the outdoors makes me recognize that while Mr. Claiborne’s time in the Civilian Conservation Corps was only 24 months, it made a lifelong impression on him.
It makes me realize that our moments of experience, while someday may be called “history” are in fact very much present in our lives and in the lives of people we come in contact with.
When the United States entered World War II in 1943, Mr. Claiborne joined the military and saw action in the Pacific Theater. He returned home to Virginia, got married, and grew a houseful of children and grandchildren. He currently residesnear Richmond, Virginia.
After serving his country for two years in the CCC, Mr. Claiborne went on to join the military.
Kim and Mr. Claiborne keep in touch by phone and both advocate for people to reconnect to the outdoors as tonic for the mind, body and spirit. Their efforts locally, coupled with the efforts of national groups like the Dianne Glave, are helping people find their own version of hope, salvation, kinship, and purpose in the land.
Groups like Outdoor Afro and the Children in Nature Network advocate for getting youth outdoors.
Isn’t it time for you to make the outdoors part of your story? Make laughter around the campfire, hikes in the forest, and picnics by the beach part of your family's history so that you can build strong relationships on these moments that will become memories.
Picnics in the park, volunteering on projects, staying in cabins, or camping can help families reconnect and become memories in the future
The park staff is here to help introduce you the great outdoors with guided hikes, nature programs, and special events. Check the schedule of programs and events by clicking here.
An upcoming event is the annual Tree Army volunteer re-planting project
While Mr. Claiborne only visits the park occasionally, Kim or I or any other staff member are here to help you and your family create some outdoor history. Stop by the Trail Center, check out our website, hop ona trail, orcome out forone of our special programs or volunteer events. We'll be the ones inthe green hats!
We are here to help you write your own outdoor history!
here for a Google map/directions.