Black History Month: Reflections on Yesterday; Goals for Tomorrow

vintage photo of black family loading a vehicle

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Black History Month is a time for African-Americans to reflect on their heritage, their culture, their rich history as a people. It is also a time to pay homage to those great men and women who left footprints in the sands of time, in their own special way.

It is a time to re-evaluate, a time to reassess future goals – a time to commit oneself to the struggle for equality and justice in a country that has yet to provide every American citizen the same opportunity to jobs, education and equal rights – in this land of plenty.

The struggle continues, and it will continue until every American, regardless of race, creed, or color, can share equally in this great big melting pot.

Despite the hardships, the constant battle for equal rights, African-Americans have survived as a people.

During the 1960’s, many gains were made – the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, which guaranteed all citizens the right to vote in national elections; access to public accommodations, facilities, and education; and equal opportunity to secure employment and participate in federal assistance programs.

There was also the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968; the Civil Rights Act of 1866 that overturned the Dred Scott Decision and gave African-Americans full and equal benefit of the law as any other citizen; the 14th Amendment designed to help former slaves to gain full status as citizens and prevent state action discriminating against them; and the 13th Amendment, approved January 31, 1865, which abolished slavery throughout the United States

There are many laws on the books to protect the rights of African-Americans and other disenfranchised Americans, but enforcement has been lax. In 1990, President George Bush vetoed the Civil Rights Act of 1990 because of perceived “job quotas.”

Many African-Americans – past and present – have made, or are making tremendous contributions to society and to the country as a whole.

As African-Americans reflect on their culture, their heritage, they must realize that the struggle is not over.

African-American leaders must prepare young leaders for tomorrow, and stress to them that if there is no pain, there is no gain; that this is a new day, a new horizon, a time for new challenges; that impossible dream can be made a possible dream; emphasize to them the importance of getting a good education, and saying “no” to drugs.

Young African-Americans must explore, they must learn, they must build.

And as African-Americans face the challenges of tomorrow, they must be challenged to:

               Be proud of their heritage;

               Build Upon their communities;

               Support African-American businesses, therefore creating jobs;

               Stop depending on others to fight their battles for political and economic parity;

               Support African American institutions and preserve those things that have already been accomplished through the civil rights struggle – through hard work, sweat and tears. Lest they not forget Selma, AL (march for voting rights); and the March on Washington where 250,000 Americans demanded jobs and freedom;

               Build bridges for tomorrow;

               Learn to respect each other, and;

               Never take their eyes off the prize.

               During Black History Month, African-Americans should recognize the accomplishments of Carter G. Woodson, the father of Black History.

               Woodson preserved a large portion of Black history through his organization, Associated Publishers, producers of publications on Black life and culture, and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History.

               One of Carter’s most quoted book creations is “Mis-Education of the Negro.”

               Woodson said (an excerpt): “…if you make a man feel that he is inferior, you do not have to compel him to accept an inferior status, for he will seek it himself. If you make a man think that he is justly an outcast, you do not have to order him to the back door. He will go without being told; and if there is no back door, his very nature will demand one…”

               Other African American stalwarts who made footprints in the sands of time were:

               Charles R. Drew, father of blood plasma

               Martin Luther King, Jr., Civil Rights Leader and Nobel Peace Laureate

Ralph Bunche, Nobel Peace Laureate, and one of the highest ranking Americans in the United Nations

               W.E.B. Dubois, scholar of international reputation

               Paul Laurence Dunbar, poet of dialect

               Mahalia Jackson, Nat Turner, Medgar Evers, Marcus Garvey, Jean Baptiste Point du Sable.

               Langston Hughes, a writer of Negro life in poems, short stories, novels and television scripts

               Sojourner Truth, abolitionist who toured the nation denouncing slavery and injustice

               Booker T. Washington, educator, lecturer

               George Washington Williams, great Black historian of the 19th Century.

               Malcolm X. religious leader and revolutionary

               Elijah Muhammad, religious leader

               James Weldon Johnson, author of Lift Every Voice and Sing, known as the Black national anthem

               Hank Aaron, the superstar who led his team to two pennants and won the national league’s MVP award in 1957; a batting average of .322, and hit his 648th homer in 1972 at the age of 38.

               Robert S. Abbott, the founder, editor and publisher of the Chicago Defender.

               Marian Anderson, one of the greatest contralto voices in history; opened up the doors of concert halls previously closed to Blacks

               Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong, the world’s greatest trumpet player

               Crispus Attucks, the first martyr of the American Revolution killed in the Boston Massacre

               Benjamin Banneker, scientist, mathematician, astronomer, clock-maker and surveyor

               Mary McLeod Bethune, educator and humanitarian

               Frederick Douglass, lecturer, abolitionist, publisher of the New National Era, the first Black to serve as Recorder of Deeds and a U.S. minister to Haiti

               George Washington Carver, developed 300 synthetic products from the peanut, 118 products from sweet potatoes, and 60 products from pecan nuts

               Douglass as well as Robert Purvis, Frances Ellen Watkins, James Forten, Jr. Martin Delaney, Charles Remond, William C. Neil, William Wells Brown, Henry H. Garnet and other Black abolitionists worked to free the slaves.

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