As a Douglassonian research historian I’ve taken the self-initiative to review the 2011 report by the Organization of American Historians “Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service” and a 2016 journal article in Public Historian, “Pulling from Outside, Pushing from Inside: Imperiled Promise and Change in the National Park Service.”
With these publications as my guidance for interpretation I reviewed several videos of Park Ranger / Interpretive Trainer John Rudy of Harpers Ferry National Historic Park regarding his interpretation of the history of Harpers Ferry, specifically the history of Storer College.
I have specifically focused my attention on a February 2017 tour of Harpers Ferry Ranger Rudy provided students of Shepherd University from nearby Shepherdstown, West Virginia.
To specifically cite Ranger Rudy’s frequent enthusiastic, yet inaccurate, bursts and flights of fancy, jumbled “schmexicography” and overall simplistic and incomplete grasp of a rudimentary historic and scholastic understanding of Storer College and the respective local and regional history could consume a lifetime. It is all nothing less than embarrassing and shameful that Ranger Rudy is responsible for training other Park Rangers around the country in interpretation let alone having the responsibility, or even singular opportunity, of communicating an interpretation directly to the public.
Ranger Rudy is a personal shining example and manifestation of the 2011 report, Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service.
I have heard some bad history from Rangers over the years but Ranger Rudy is the worst Ranger I have ever heard. And that explains it.
Possibly the worst interpretative Ranger in the National Park Service system is responsible for training Rangers around the country in interpretation. It is poetic in its patheticness.
The interpretation of the National Park Service is and has been largely a disgrace. The public knows this. The report says so. Not a disgrace in the emotion, fervor and narrative of the interpretation but in the scholastic and historic fidelity. Without history you have no interpretation.
NPS largely has no clue that it has no clue. Ranger Rudy has no clue that he has no clue. Ranger Rudy’s infinite interpretative flights of enthusiastic fancy make up not for his completely disgraceful and shameful thread-bareness of history and citations.
Let us go to the tape …
“And that’s where she is in the fall of 1931, leafing through the Black newspaper.
Now there isn’t a large enough Black population in Jefferson County to support a Black newspaper for this area.
In fact, there’s not even a large enough population in West Virginia, or Maryland, or Virginia, or Pennsylvania, alone. (lots of hand motions)
So Baltimore creates the Baltimore Afro-American. (hands clasped together)
It’s the local Black paper in Baltimore but covers (face grimace) everything (hand extended forward and back) out here to the West!
Everything! Up to the north; (pushs an open palm forward) up to the northern border of Pennsylvania!
Everything (hand extended sideways) down into the Carolinas (another face grimace)!
The Mid-Atlantic is covered by this paper and this is her news source.
This entire string of simplistic statements by Ranger John Rudy is:
- either selectively misleading and dangerously false in error
- or deliberately misleading and dangerously false in intent: therefore egregiously malicious in its lack of scholastic fidelity and blasphemous to the interpretation of not only Harpers Ferry National Historic Park but the entire National Park Service.
No words nor language can overstate nor describe how disgraceful, reprehensible, dishonorable, dismissive and historically irresponsible Ranger Rudy’s history, or lack thereof, and interpretation, or lack thereof, in fact is.
Ranger Rudy simply has no facts. With no facts, Ranger Rudy has no interpretation.
As a note, the Baltimore Afro was – by most accounts – established when John H. Murphy bought out a church-based city paper, with money from his wife Martha E. Howard from Unity, Maryland in Montgomery County, in a merger effort to launch the Baltimore Afro in 1892.
“So Baltimore creates the Baltimore Afro-American.” – Ranger Rudy
This simplistic statement speaks for its simplistic self. According to my interpretation of Ranger Rudy’s statement:
- the municipality of Baltimore was responsible for the creation of the paper
- for some unknown reason(s)
- by unknown persons
- in an unknown year
To clarify and edify Ranger Rudy’s flight of fancy, we will deal with Ranger Rudy’s comments with, first, 1892 as a reference point, and, secondly, 1931 as a reference point to demonstrate the inherent and abject ignorance of his entire statement contained on the video from 41:40 – 42:26.
As one last note, for geographers, Baltimore is roughly 70 miles from Harpers Ferry while Washington City is roughly 65 miles away.
In 1892 travel to each city was facilitated by the railroads with the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Lockpost 60.7 and Lock House 33 just across the Potomac from Harpers Ferry on the Maryland side. This is of note due the more common and public travel and distribution routes in which journalists and newspapers delivers would take to and from Harpers Ferry during this era.
From the end of the American Civil War until 1892, throughout West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania communities supported their own interconnected Black newspapers. These states and the communities supported their papers “alone,” – as Ranger Rudy says, “alone,” having absolute no meaning or in reference to anything at all.
By 1892, there had been previously established and/or were active Black press newspapers published out of:
- (1) Jefferson County, West Virginia
- (2) Berkeley County, West Virginia
- (3) Kanawha County, West Virginia
- (4) Montgomery County, West Virginia
- (5) Washington City
- (6) Richmond, Virginia
- (7) Norfolk, Virginia
- (8) Petersburg, Virginia
- (9) Roanoke, Virginia
- (10) Staunton, Virginia
- (11) Alexandria, Virginia
- (12) Lynchburg, Virginia
- (13) Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
- (14) Philadelphia
- (15) Kent County, Maryland
- (16) Somerset and Dorchester County, Maryland (same editor)
* Several of these papers were published and/or edited by:
- 1) former students and/or graduates of Storer
- 2) faculty of Storer
- 3) members of Storer’s board
In 1931, there were Black press newspapers published out of:
- (1) Keystone, West Virginia (McDowell County)
- (2) Pittsburgh
- (3) Philadelphia
- (4) Washington City
- (5) Richmond
- (6) Norfolk
- (7) Staunton
- (8) Newport News
- (9) elsewhere within the states mentioned in Ranger Rudy’s flight of fancy.
In quick conclusion, the representative historic narrative and telling of Storer College as maintained by the National Park Service is either an egregious oversight and shortcoming of its own historians, interpreters, consultants and Superintendents across decades or a deliberate effort to mislead, obscure and/or ignore the consequential citations of our heritage and legacy of one of the most sacred sites in collective American history across generations for all peoples and nationalities.
Either reason serves as no explanation nor reason for the lies and false history to continue into the future.