The Superintendent of Fort Monroe National Monument comes to work every day just steps away from where the first recorded Africans landed in the new world almost 400 years ago. For Terry Brown, a 27-year veteran of the National Park Service, he thinks it’s absolutely spectacular.
“There are not a lot of African-Americans as superintendents in the National Park Service. I’ve only known a handful,” Brown said. “But, I think in this position, I am well positioned to do a lot of great stuff.”
“This community has never had a national park in its back yard and I think that’s really neat.” When Brown arrived to Fort Monroe, Va., from Boston in June of 2016 he went from managing 64 employees to a staff of one.
One of Brown’s first priorities was to put together a comprehensive professional staff that could take Fort Monroe to another level in the communities they serve.
“We’re working really hard to diversify,” he said. “How many historical places have you gone to that speaks to African-Americans but it’s an all white staff? It’s not that you can’t have an all white staff but you need diversity within your organization, because they are going to speak through the different lenses.”
After managing the Black Heritage Trail at Boston Harbor Islands National & State Park, Brown got the call last year to serve at Fort Monroe and he happily accepted.
“I arrive, it’s a big celebration, everyone is so happy. I’m excited I got the job, and one month later I realized I have some work on my hands,” Brown said.
“I walk through the door and realize we have no walking tours, buildings that are falling down with mold, termite damage and no welcome center. There is no way to welcome people to Fort Monroe.”
Brown said together with Fort Monroe Executive Director Glenn Oder they came together to conceptualize the Fort Monroe Visitor and Education Center, which will open in 2019.
“There was also no National Parks Service sign on the front gate, but now we have the first phase of signs going up. It will start to feel like a national park,” he said.
An Army brat who spent most of his life in Germany and Holland the National Park Service came into Brown’s life as a student at Grambling State University in Grambling, La.
“A park service representative came into my class and started talking about what they do and I thought it was weird because it was a business class,” Brown said. “Afterwords she asked who was interested and not a single person raised their hand. I said you know what, I’m not really doing anything this summer I’ll try it and three months later I got my first assignment.”
“I was hiking, canoeing and fishing and two weeks later I got my first paycheck. I was like wow you actually get paid to do this … and I never turned back.”
Responsible for overseeing the physical and archaeological maintenance of Fort Monroe, Brown has a few simple goals to make the historic location a premiere travel destination.
“Fort Monroe National Monument is on the same level as the Grand Canyon or Yosemite National Park,” he said.
“I know before I arrived, the community wanted this space to be protected, so I have to connect more people to Fort Monroe. It’s a lot of people outside of these gates that don’t realize this belongs to them, and that this story is relevant to them,” he said.
“Every single park in this country Africans had a part in the establishment of that site. There is not a single place in the United States Africans haven’t had a role in.”