Editorial — Remembering the struggles, honoring the gains

Feb 13, 2014

Belfast — In 1925, historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson believed reason would eventually rise above the prejudices that existed in society concerning race. To that end, he and his organization formed the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), and established what was then known as Negro History Week. The reason for doing so, as outlined on the government website dedicated to African American History Month, was not only to raise awareness about the struggles African Americans faced, but also to call attention the many contributions African Americans have made to our society and celebrate them.

The event was first celebrated during a week in February 1926 that encompassed the birth dates of both Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.

By the time Woodson died in 1950, more Americans had come to appreciate the week of observation and it became a regularly celebrated time for African American families across the country. The civil rights movements of the 1960s further generated discussions — among people of all races — about the significance of contributions African Americans had made to our society throughout history.

In February 1976, President Gerald Ford delivered the following message in observance of African American History Month:

"In the bicentennial year of our Independence, we can review with admiration the impressive contributions of black Americans to our national life and culture.

One hundred years ago, to help highlight these achievements, Dr. Carter G. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History. We are grateful to him today for his initiative, and we are richer for the work of his organization.

Freedom and the recognition of individual rights are what our Revolution was all about. They were ideals that inspired our fight for Independence: ideals that we have been striving to live up to ever since. Yet it took many years before these ideals became a reality for black citizens.

The last quarter-century has finally witnessed significant strides in the full integration of black people into every area of national life. In celebrating Black History Month, we can take satisfaction from this recent progress in the realization of the ideals envisioned by our Founding Fathers. But, even more than this, we can seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.

I urge my fellow citizens to join me in tribute to Black History Month and to the message of courage and perseverance it brings to all of us."

These days we think nothing of the fact that children of all races attend public school together, compared to not so many years ago, when schools were segregated based on skin color. The same was true of restaurants and public places like parks, where drinking fountains were labeled to indicate whether they were intended to be used by Caucasians or African Americans, though the terms back in those times were not nearly as politically correct. Today, interracial families are common and welcomed in our communities.

We've come a long way as a country and as a society, and it is important to keep educating our newest generations about mistakes of the past in order to avoid a repetition of a less-than-stellar part of our nation's history.

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