Dennis Parker ’67 doesn’t have a time machine, but he does have the next best thing — an undying interest in Revolutionary America and a costume that lets him embody a 1776 colonist to educate today’s students.
Two years ago Parker, a Raleigh resident, wrote and published a book about that critical time in our nation’s past when American colonists battled for their independence from England. Jefferson’s Masterpiece is a historical novel tracing that historic summer, from June 11 to August 2, 1776, when the likes of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Ben Franklin were hammering out the United States’ future.
“Students can see the battles that went on,” says Parker, who worked in journalism and public relations throughout his career. “It also goes through the debates for and against independence.”
Earlier this year, Parker decided to help bring that story to life by performing it as an everyday 1776 colonist. Since then, he’s performed for five different middle-school aged groups of children. He spends those 40-minute sessions trying to whet their appetites for history.
“I want them to understand the struggle we went through to get our independence,” he says. “I want them to learn to appreciate the Declaration of Independence. It created our country. The United States of America was a phrase never used before it.”
Parker, 69, admires the tenacity of forefathers like Jefferson and Adams in fighting to gain independence and setting forth the future path of the country. He has always studied political science and history, bypassing the more popularized interest in the Civil War for Colonial America.
“I am just fascinated with the creation of our country,” says Parker, who will spend July 4th with his wife getting in his annual viewings of four or five films based on the summer of 1776. “It’s amazing to me that those people were there at the right time. It reminds me of the ‘Computer Age.’ Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were living at the same time and had a passion for computers.
“You have these people in history that have the same interests at the same time.”