In 1926, Dr. Carter G. Woodson launched Negro History Week as an initiative to bring national attention to the contributions of Black people throughout American history. Today the celebration in the arts and science, public and private business industries, sports, domestic and foreign policy, and political, social and economic justice arenas continues throughout February and is now known as African American History Awareness Month.
Like others during these 28 days, I find myself hungry to learn of yet another person who, because of their thoughts, actions, motivation, “made a way out of no way”. One Saturday evening I watched a PBS documentary titled “For Love of Liberty” and the sacrifices of African American soldiers who fought for a “cause greater than me”.
Dating as far back as the Revolutionary War, it is the story of “America’s Black Patriots.” I watched images and heard narratives of those who faced ultimate racism and bigotry, but continued to sign up to for a chance to prove African Americans were worthy of dignity, humanity and full rights of citizenship. I also watched images of soldiers lynched in their uniforms as a message from extremist that no matter what their sacrifice, they would never be equal, honored or worthy.
This month I was afforded the opportunity to participate in a Congressional Black Caucus staff briefing on the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. In preparing for this presentation I realized here was yet another group of military personnel, soldiers waiting for a “chance to prove” they were worthy. I found what may seem like an unlikely connection with those of the past who fought for love of liberty for others with no gains or recognition of who they were with those who fight today and serve this county honorably for the same reason.
The contributions of African American’s to this country are substantial, but as important they are inspiring. Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback was the first non-white and first person of African American descent to become governor of a U.S. state, serving as the 24th Governor of Louisiana for an entire 35 days. Anna Julia Haywood Cooper was an educator, writer, and human rights leader. Vernon Johns was an African American minister and leader who was active in the struggle for civil rights for African Americans from the 1920s and is considered the father of the American Civil Rights Movement, having laid the foundation on which Martin Luther King, Jr. and others would build.
There are no ordinary sacrifices a person can make when their motivations and actions are for a cause greater than self. Religious and racial extremists haven’t deterred those who seek that chance to prove their worthiness. As an African American, I am aware of what the insults of oppression, injustice and inequality can have on the mind and spirit of a persons and a people. I also know that separate is not necessarily equal. But I also have read and witnessed that “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
I believe in revelation, the connection to historical moments, the legacy of persons and people in pursuit of “a chance to prove.” This African American History Awareness Month I recognized the contributions of all men and women who served and are serving in our armed forces with profound appreciation for their sacrifices in pursuit of a chance to prove. In the words of what is known as the African American National Anthem by James Weldon Johnson, we must continue to celebrate, educate, and be inspired to “Lift every voice … until victory is won.”