Reconstruction Reflected, 150 Years Later with Edward Hightower

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The ongoing Reconstruction Era Theme Study is the reason why I was brought to the Southeast Region Office. Since my start in January 2015 I have been diligently researching Reconstruction stories to be interpreted at various parks within the region. So far I have identified thirty-three parks that are associated with Reconstruction in some form or fashion. There are a total of sixty-seven parks in the region.  I have been reporting my finds at each monthly Cultural Resources Division meeting and also at the Research and Science Branch meetings.

While working with the Greening Youth Foundation I have created a professional network forging meaningful relationships with various leaders in the National Park Service, which has been one of the many highlights throughout my journey. Establishing new relationships could benefit me after my internship and could possibly expand opportunities for learning more well after my internship has completed. Calling up and meeting superintendents and chiefs of interpretation staffers has been a rewarding experience. Learning about the distinctive personality of each park also has been equally as satisfying.

Picture1Upon visiting Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park on May 21 I had the chance to meet Benita Duling, a park ranger, who was helpful in sharing what stories were currently interpreted regarding her the park.  She handed me a slave narrative by Levi Branham that revealed what life was like during the war and after. They had an exhibit that reflected the Reconstruction Era that was informative for visitors.

The Founder’s Day event on August 25 was a blast. We charted a bus from downtown Atlanta to Ocmulgee National monument in Macon, Georgia and learned about ancient Native American cultures and peoples dating back to the Ice Age before 9000 BC, which lasted until 1715 AD.  We toured around the park and even entered inside the reconstructed earthlodge where Indian chiefs convened with others in the community to discuss important matters of the day. Afterwards we had lunch as Regional Director Stan Austin was the keynote speaker for the event. We got a chance to meet the superintendent, rangers as well as other park staff members.


In September, I helped to coordinate the Civil Rights
Initiative meeting. This meeting was an outgrowth of the Arc of Equality meeting scheduled earlier in the year. Several park superintendents and their staff were invited to the Southeast Region Office, here, to speak about civil rights programs that they were currently engaged in and what future programs might look like at their parks. The findings from the Reconstruction Era Theme Study were discussed and several presentations were given. I had decided to put together a PowerPoint presentation identifying several parks and a number of Reconstruction stories that I had discovered so far.  Also, opportunities for collaboration were discussed on how to move forward relative to both the Arc of Equality initiative as well as the Reconstruction Era study were planned. One program initiative that came out of this session was to encourage every park with Reconstruction themes associated with them to celebrate the sesquicentennial anniversary for the ratification of the Thirteen Amendment in December. African Americans celebrated 150 years of emancipation on December 6, 2015.  Subsequently, celebration for the Fourteenth Amendment, which granted citizenship rights and Fifteenth Amendment granting the right to vote for African Americans followed as well.

Picture3Lastly, in September right after the civil rights meeting we met for the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) Conference in downtown Atlanta. There I presented a paper regarding Georgia’s convict leasing system during the Reconstruction Era. I met new National Park Service employees from around the country. My supervisor, Turkiya Lowe, held several workshops. One of them focused on employment opportunities within the national park service. There, she went over how to apply and what skills the agency look for in potential employees.  Our next immediate event is attending the American Historical Association (AHA) conference beginning on January 5, 2016.  There, I will be presenting again on my Reconstruction study.

Picture2– Edward Hightower

Reconstruction Research Intern

Southeast Region Office, National Park Service

Ed Hightower has been able to genuinely enjoy his Reconstruction research internship while making the most out of the new opportunities and connections presented, and with the internship being extended for another year more doors are sure to open.


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