By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

The National Park Service and public service

As part of our in-town vacation, we took the Black Freedom Trail tour offered in Boston's Beacon Hill by the National Park Service. Beacon Hill today is the toniest part of Boston (Senator John Kerry and Teresa Heinz live there), but in the Colonial era it was at the very edge of town, and it was home (until after the Civil War) to one of America's most important free black communities. The Park Service interpretative tour takes visitors to a number of the important houses associated with Boston's early black community, and through that provides a history of efforts by blacks to fight for justice, going back centuries prior to the civil rights movement of the sixties. The tour, offered since 1980, was the first Park Service interpretative tour ever done on non-National Park grounds (the tour proceeds through normal city streets).

The Black Freedom Trail was an amazing experience. The 15 walkers were a multiracial group of tourists visiting Boston (no non-Americans, and we were the only Bostonians). The Park Service guide was a guy who is normally a high school history teacher, but has worked fulltime every summer for the last six years leading this tour. He was extraordinarily enthusiastic about his topic, and beautifully communicated his sense of history to us listeners.

Beyond enjoying the experience, the tour left me feeling good about public servants and about government. Our tour guide, somewhat to my surprise, very explicitly saw himself as a "fed" -- when a letter carrier came by, he said hi to him and then said to us, "Another fed," and he associated the tour with the federal government more than once. His enthusiasm certainly must be different from the stereotype many of the walkers hold about civil servants. He also handed out a customer satisfaction survey at the end of the tour, part of the Park Service's effort at performance measurement.

I also felt grateful to the National Park Service for offering this tour. This is a real contribution towards helping people understand the mosaic that makes up America.

Posted by Steve Kelman on Aug 21, 2007 at 12:08 PM


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