By Honorable Eddie Bernice Johnson
During the month of February the nation pauses to acknowledge the significant contributions made by people of African-American ancestry to American greatness. The practice began in 1926 when Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard trained Black historian, proclaimed that a time should be set aside to reflect on the achievements of Blacks in America.
Dr. Woodson, who headed the Washington D.C. based Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, chose February because President Abraham Lincoln and the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass were born during that month. Originally, the recognition occurred for a period of one week. In 1976 it was extended to an entire month.
From its very inception, those who promulgated Black History Month articulated that the celebration was not only important to African-Americans, but to all Americans. The Black inventors, writers, engineers, business owners, political leaders, lawyers, medical professionals, clergy and athletes who have made monumental contributions to American life have enriched all of our citizens.
Those who have contributed are not simply African-American heroes, they are American heroes. Their accomplishments were not simply made for Black people in this country. They were made for all people. When the World War II war hero, Doris Miller, a cook in the U.S. Navy left his ship’s kitchen to operate a machine gun to battle attacking enemy planes, he acted to protect the lives of all his fellow seamen. Many of those who were saved because of his heroics were not African-Americans.
When Bessie Coleman became the first black women in the world to earn a pilot’s license, she made a significant contribution to the struggle of all women in this country for dignity and self-determination. When Alvin Ailey choreographed dance his desire was to touch the hearts and the spirits of people throughout the world who were moved by his majestic artistry.
When Barbara Jordan became the first African-American female from the south to serve in the House of Representatives she encouraged legions of women, Black, brown and White who had been told that there was no place for them in the halls of power where decisions that affected the lives of people, including their own, were made.
I could fill countless numbers of pages with the names of African-Americans who have accomplished great things in their lifetimes. It is vitally important that we remember them and their work as they have helped to change all of our lives, and the life of a nation.
Even today, African-Americans make vital contributions to American life. The president of our nation, an African-American, leads the most powerful nation on the face of the earth. When he makes a decision he makes it in the best interests of all Americans.
We must always remember, however, that these amazing achievements belong to all of us. The history of African-American people, like the history of other ethnic groups in our country, has enriched all of our citizens, and has contributed to the standing that America has in the world today.