Meet the Visionary Historian Honoring the African American Experience Through National Parks
"All of them are my children."
Barbara Tagger’s 37 years with the National Park Service have left an indelible mark on the landscape of the South—a place with a legacy the historian is just beginning to come to terms with.
From the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park in Atlanta to the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, she has participated in the creation, development, and management of six national park units and consulted on countless others. “If it’s dealing with the African American experience, chances are I was part of it,” she says.
Her résumé also includes work on the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail (the first and only National Historic Trail commemorating African American history), the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, and the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program. Tagger’s contributions to the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park in Maryland and the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park in New York earned her the prestigious 2013 Harriet Tubman Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the Baltimore African American Tourism Council. And she is currently the superintendent of Horseshoe Bend National Military Park in Daviston, Alabama.
“All of them are my children,” Tagger says of her National Park Service projects. “Some of them were my easy children, and some of them were my problem children. No two are the same. They take years and years. People don’t realize how much you go through behind the scenes.”
Today, visiting the sites she helped bring to life brings tears to her eyes. “I feel very privileged to have given more recognition to African American stories, particularly in the South,” says Tagger.
The St. Louis native says she fell into a career at the National Park Service accidentally, but as a “born teacher” with a lifelong love of history, it’s a calling she has come to embrace. Deciding what stories are told, how they’re conveyed, and how best to preserve them has allowed her to use the world as her classroom.
“It’s not about just throwing the information at people,” explains Tagger. “We show them why these stories are important to America, how they affect them personally, and what lessons we can learn from our past to make our future better.”