Through her vision: Natchez superintendent receives National Park Service honor

Published 12:06 am Sunday, December 14, 2014

The National Park Service named Natchez National Historical Park Superintendent Kathleen Jenkins Superintendent of the Year for the Southeast Region. (Sam Gause/The Natchez Democrat)

The National Park Service named Natchez National Historical Park Superintendent Kathleen Jenkins Superintendent of the Year for the Southeast Region. (Sam Gause/The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — An attention to how historical detail can still impact modern-day life and big picture thinking were two factors that recently won a local preservation activist  recognition for her work.

Natchez National Historical Park Superintendent Kathleen Jenkins was named Southeast Region Superintendent of the Year for 2014 for her work in Natchez.

The award, which is presented annually by the National Park Service, recognizes substantial contributions to the workforce and mission of the National Park Service, including demonstrating success in resource stewardship, workforce enrichment, 21st century relevancy and education efforts.

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Jenkins chaired the region’s Civil War to Civil Rights Steering Committee, where she made an effort to tell the untold stories of black history.

“(Jenkins’) ability to think critically and see the big picture was invaluable to the success of the commemoration,” NPS Southeast Regional Director Stan Austin said.

“She forged strong relationships with outside partners and helped fulfill the vision of the commemoration with innovative and inclusive programming.

“Her leadership helped to make the Civil War relevant to more people by implementing park programs that interpreted the home front and the African American perspective.”

Jenkins said she was honored and humbled by the recognition.

“I’m happy as a dead pig in the sunshine,” Jenkins said.

“I love that I’m still in Mississippi, and I love that I work with the National Park Service. It really gives me a foot in both worlds.”

Jenkins began working as a museum technician at the Natchez National Historic Park in 1993. In 1999, she started work as a museum specialist, and by 2001 she had been promoted to museum curator.

During those years, she oversaw cataloguing and other museum activities at the park, and was in charge of planning and implementing historically accurate restorations at Melrose and the William Johnson House.

She was also in charge of developing modern exhibits on the first floor of the William Johnson House.

Since 2005, Jenkins has served as the park’s superintendent, securing grant funding for building partnerships to create a new historic sites assessment for potential black cultural tourism sites in Natchez.

Additionally, Jenkins oversaw completion of a boundary study that found the Forks of the Road slave market site meets the criteria of national significance to be added to the park. She is currently working to secure authorizing legislation for the Forks.

Jenkins also created a new black cultural tourism brochure for the City of Natchez, and worked with the committee creating interpretive signage for the new downtown and bluff walking trails.

Jenkins said she hopes to share stories from a diverse point-of-view by not just looking at the battles and tactics used during the Civil War, but also the cause and the stories of black Americans who were enslaved before joining the Union Army.

“I think that we have new stories to tell about the Civil War,” Jenkins said.

“History is told in different phases, depending on where the culture is at the time. In the 1970s people become much more interested in stories that were not told — stories of women, stories of minorities and just looking at history from different perspectives.”

Jenkins said she looks at Natchez as the microcosm of what’s going on in the country.

“Visitors really haven’t been faced with the fact that as many men (in Natchez), if not more, fought for the Union Army than for the confederacy,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins said receiving the award gives affirmation to the work she has done for the City of Natchez.

“It also brings more attention to Natchez, which I’m all about,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins recently heard a quote by Mother Teresa, a Roman Catholic religious sister and missionary who lived most of her life in India, that sums up well her philosophy and how she wants to live and work in Natchez.

“I may not be able to do great things, but I can do small things with great love,” Jenkins said.