The Rev. John Womack, president of the National African American RVers Association, steps out of a motor home at a campground in Gadsden, Ala., on Friday, May 16. Womack and his wife enjoy camping, but he says that black people historically don’t camp for a number of reasons. (AP photo/Jay Reeves)
GADSDEN, Ala. — The throngs that filled campgrounds across America over Memorial Day weekend included both hardy outdoors types and those who prefer creature comforts, but they had at least one thing in common: Nearly all were white.
A small but committed group of campers is trying to change that by growing a generation of black campers, one person at a time.
The National African American RVers Association (NAARVA) is composed almost exclusively of black people who camp, although it includes a few whites and Hispanics. The group doesn’t have much money to buy ads or solicit new members.
Instead, it always holds its major national gathering in July when schools are out so children and grandchildren can come along.
“We cater mostly to the family so that our young people will be able to grow up understanding the outside world and seeing the creation that God has created for us and how beautiful it is,” said the Rev. John Womack of Boston, the group’s president.
Getting more blacks into the woods would mean breaking decades of stereotypes and overcoming a longstanding leeriness that members say many have about camping. Bad things happen to black people in the woods, the story goes, and they can’t afford recreational vehicles (RVs).
At least, that’s the way Lawrence Joseph always heard it. It all gets a chuckle from him as he shows off his 32-foot Winnebago Brave, one of about 160 campers packed into the River Country Campground for the Southern regional rally of the black campers’ association. Joseph bought his RV four years ago, seeking the same things that draws whites to camp.
“I like the closeness, the friendship. You meet people from different venues, from different professions,” he said. “I have two kids, and it gets them out of the house [and away] from playing video games.”
Womack and his wife Bertha got hooked on camping years ago during a cross-country trip with their three children in 1983. He said outdoors recreation wasn’t very practical or attractive to blacks for generations.
“In the early years, we didn’t have the resources to camp. We didn’t have the time off to camp,” said Womack. “And for many people, life itself was camping. Our homes were like tents. We weren’t anxious to run from one set of woods to the next.”
Lemuel Horton, Southern regional director for the black campers’ group, said that for years many blacks were simply afraid to camp.(p2)