HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) — A Hampton Roads native will soon be the new superintendent of Fort Monroe National Monument.
Last week, Eola Dance was named to the position by National Park Service (NPS) Regional Director Gay Vietzke.
Dance, who is currently serving as acting superintendent for the last year, will assume the position on Oct. 10.
“It is definitely surreal. I think that is one way of describing it,” Dance said. “It feels like an honor, a privilege certainly.”
Dance grew up in Hampton and says she was a part of a military family. Her father retired from the U.S. Army at Fort Eustis before she was born.
So, she’s familiar with Fort Monroe.
“I played everywhere you can imagine here at Fort Monroe. I learned to swim at the YMCA and the Officers’ Club. I attended vacation bible school at the Chapel of the Centurion. I’m so thankful for the community of people that shaped my thinking. Without question that military environment, I think my father wanted to impact in me the freedoms that were fought for,” she said.
Dance, who attended Southern University and A&M College, says she never thought she would’ve ended up with the National Park Service.
“I’ve been with the National Park Service for 20 years. It’s a shock to me to realize that much time has gone by but time flies when you’re having fun. That’s definitely true,” she said. “This work is a joy. Sometimes there’s challenges. There are difficult topics we deal with, but I have to say I love working with the National Park Service and communities that care about the sites we manage.”
She became interested in the park service through an HBCU recruitment program.
Two decades later, she’s now the first Black woman superintendent at the monument.
“I shared this opportunity to serve as an African American woman in the National Park Service to heart. It’s part of my identity. It’s the lens I look at the world through and certainly my job. I’m hopeful through my example that others you might not have though there was an opportunity in the park service, they’ll see there are lots of jobs in the organization,” Dance said.
Now being in charge of the monument, which former President Barack Obama established in 2011, means something even more meaningful to Dance.
It’s the site of the first African landing in 1619 and during the Civil War, it was a place where enslaved people sought refuge from the Confederacy.
“Fort Monroe is so, so special. It’s so special. I feel really emotional even thinking about it,” she said.
Dance hopes that she’ll be able to not only tell these important historic stories that span more than 400 years here but also help others find their voice too.
“What I hope to accomplish is to help people tell their own stories. When you think about Fort Monro, you have over four hundred years of history that’s significant to the making of America. We’re standing here on the parade ground and the Algernourne Oak in the background is a witness to that 400-year history,” she said. “I really hope I can help people tell their stories here. Oftentimes as the government or land manager, we’re synthesizing the stories. We’ve done a lot of that work. We’ve done a lot of that documentation. I think this is a time when communities will be here, be present, and be able to tell their own stories and we’ll all share and learn. I hope that’s part of the legacy I’ll leave.”
Dance is currently in a doctoral history program at Howard University with a focus on the colonial era, women’s history and African American experiences.
Fort Monroe will also celebrate its 10th anniversary as a national monument.