Stanton, Robert G.

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Robert G. Stanton

Federal government official, conservationist

The first park Robert G. Stanton ever visited was Greenway Park in Fort Worth, Texas, which was also the only park in Fort Worth that allowed African Americans. In 1997, after thirty-one years of service with the National Park Service (NPS), Stanton became the first African American to head the National Park Service.

Stanton was born in 1940 and was raised in the Fort Worth community of Mosier Valley, an area that was settled by freed slaves in the late 1800s. By the time he was eight years old he was driving a tractor for his father, who baled hay for local farmers. He attended the segregated Mosier Valley elementary school. The parents of the school filed one of the many lawsuits filed by African Americans after World War II in order to challenge the so-called separate-but-equal law that allowed segregated schools in the United States. The fight to desegregate public education in the United States was led locally by parents and educators and nationally by a network of legal scholars and activists and was one of the most significant events in the modern civil rights movement.

In October 1949, a group of Mosier Valley parents filed a federal lawsuit for equal access to schools for their children within the Euless Independent school district, Stanton's school district near Fort Worth. Without consulting any parents, local school officials had proposed to close down the area's segregated Mosier Valley School, and bus the African American children to Fort Worth schools. When the parents heard of the school district's plans, they refused to have their children transferred to the Fort Worth schools and, with the assistance of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), filed suit. Even though the facilities in Fort Worth were better than those at the local schools, the parents argued that their children must be allowed to attend school locally. The court found in favor of the parents, agreeing that transferring the students to a different school district while operating schools for white children violated the separate-but-equal convention that was the justification for segregated school systems. As a result of this suit, a new segregated brick school building was built in 1953 to replace the dilapidated wooden building that had served as the only local school open to African Americans.

Follows Call to National Parks

Stanton attended Huston-Tillotson College, a church-supported, private, historically black college in Austin, Texas. A National Park System (NPS) representative came to Huston-Tillotson to promote careers in the park service. In 1962, Stanton borrowed $250 to buy a uniform and a train ticket to Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, where he worked as a seasonal ranger during the summers of 1962 and 1963. It was his first visit to a national park; in fact, he had never been outside Texas. Stanton earned a bachelor of science degree from Huston-Tillotson and completed graduate work at Boston University in Boston. He later received three honorary doctorate degrees: doctor of science, Huston-Tillotson College, Austin, Texas; doctor of environmental stewardship; Unity College, Unity, Maine; and doctor of public policy, Southern University and Agricultural and Mechanical College, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

In 1966, after two years as the director of public relations and alumni affairs at Huston-Tillotson College, Stanton joined the NPS full-time as a personnel management and public information specialist in the Washington, D.C. headquarters office. In 1969, he became a management assistant in the central region, and in 1970, became superintendent of the eastern region, which includes Washington, D.C. and Maryland. A year later he was appointed superintendent of Virgin Islands National Park in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, and in 1974, he became deputy regional director of the southeast region in Atlanta. In 1977, Stanton returned to the Washington, D.C. headquarters as assistant director of park operations and in 1978 was appointed deputy regional director of the national capital region. In 1987, he returned to headquarters as associate director for operations. In 1988, he was named regional director of the national capital region, which includes forty national parks and monuments in and around Washington, D.C, including the White House, the Washington Monument, and the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials.


Born in Texas
Takes first National Park Service job as a seasonal ranger at Grand Teton National Park
Becomes full time employee of National Park Service
Takes post as superintendent of Virgin Islands National Parks, St. Thomas
Serves as regional director of the national parks in the Washington, D.C. area
Retires from National Park Service
Sworn in as fifteenth director of National Park Service
Retires from directorship of National Park Service

Retires, Briefly

When Stanton informed Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt in 1996 that he was retiring after thirty-one years of service, Babbitt suspected the retirement would be short-lived. "I was thinking this might be one of the shortest retirements," Babbitt told the Washington Post. As it turned out, he was right. The former director of the National Park Service, Roger Kennedy, left his post on March 31, 1997. Babbitt enticed Stanton out of retirement, and Stanton was nominated by President Bill Clinton as Kennedy's replacement.

Stanton was sworn into the post in August 1997, after being confirmed by the Senate. He was the first career NPS employee to head the department in twenty years. At his swearing-in, Stanton was introduced by first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and sworn in by Secretary of the Interior Babbitt in the Indian Treaty Room of the Old Executive Office Building. An audience of about 150 people attended.

As the fifteenth director of the National Park Service, Stanton took on responsibility for policy and administration for 375 park sites in 49 states, five territories, and Washington, D.C. The 80 million-acre park system is managed by 20,000 permanent and seasonal employees with an annual budget of about $1.6 billion. The NPS is notoriously short on funds, which is a challenge for its director. Stanton's directorship came at a time when the park service was facing declining congressional support in budget appropriation that led to first-time fees at some parks and increased fees at the more popular parks.

In addition to overseeing the nation's grand natural parks, the NPS also maintains urban parks and national historic sites. A number of these "inspire me personally," Stanton said in an interview at, because they relate to African American history. These include such sites as the home of noted abolitionist, orator, and writer Frederick Douglass and the memorial to the educator and human rights leader Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, both in Washington, D.C. The NPS also maintains the Atlanta home of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka, Kansas commemorates the groundbreaking U.S. Supreme Court decision that desegregated public schools. "Under our Constitution," Stanton continued at, "we never should have been a segregated society, but we recognize that segregation did take place. In a real sense, such a park teaches how the nation has matured from one era to another. I think parks have a way of unifying us as one people and one nation."

For his work, Stanton has been cited in professional and technical publications and has served as a keynote speaker at university functions and major national and international conferences. He has represented the National Park Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior on the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts board of trustees, Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts board of directors, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, the Committee for the Preservation of the White House, and the National Park Foundation.

Travels as Leader in Conservation

Stanton has traveled to more than twelve different countries to participate in major international conferences, including the World Protected Areas Leadership Forum in Virginia (2000); in Spain (2001); in Australia (2002); and the World Commission on Protected Areas and World Conservation Congress in Amman, Jordan. He is also active with such civic groups as the Student Conservation Association, Inc.; the National Audubon Society; Accokeek Foundation; and the Woods Hole Research Center. He was a fellow of the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration, an associate of the Roundtable Associates, and chairman of the Trustees of the African American Experience Fund of the National Park Foundation.

He has been honored with countless awards and citations from professional, governmental, and civil organizations for outstanding public service, conservation leadership, youth development, and diversity in employment and public programs.

Stanton moved on from the NPS in 2001, with the end of the Clinton administration. He remained active in conservation activities and led a study on the role minorities play in environmental groups. Grand Teton remains Stanton's favorite national park.



"Giving direction: Meet Robert G. Stanton, a 31-year career employee, who has become the 15th director of the Park Service." National Parks, November-December 1997.

Sarasohn, Judy. "Diversity Survey Causes Broadside." Washington Post, 18 March 2004.

"Stanton 1st black to head National Park Service." Jet, 21 July 1997.

Wheeler, Linda. "Former Regional Chief Sworn In as Head of National Park Service." Washington Post, 16 August 1997.

――――. "Retired D.C. Regional Director Nominated to Head Park Service; He Would Inherit Agency Squeezed for Funds." Washington Post, 29 June 1997.


"A Conversation with Robert G. Stanton." The Trust for Public Land. (Accessed 23 March 2005).

"The History of Public School Desegregation: A NPS Perspective—Robert G. Stanton." Organization of American Historians. 23 March 2005).

                                  Brenna Sanchez

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