January 31, 2013
February is African American History Month, so let re-examine the reasons.
As a Harvard-trained historian, Carter G. Woodson believed that truth could not be denied and that reason would prevail over prejudice. His hopes to raise awareness of African American's contributions to civilization was realized when he and the organization he founded, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), conceived and announced Negro History Week in 1925.
The event was first celebrated during a week in February 1926 that encompassed the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The response was overwhelming: Black history clubs sprang up; teachers demanded materials to instruct their pupils; and progressive whites, not simply white scholars and philanthropists, stepped forward to endorse the effort.
By the time of Woodson's death in 1950, Negro History Week had become a central part of African American life and substantial progress had been made in bringing more Americans to appreciate the celebration.
The celebration was expanded to a month in 1976, the nation's bicentennial. President Gerald R. Ford urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
We hear about the accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and others, but there are so many we never hear or read about. Last year’s national theme was "Black Women in American Culture and History", that honored African American women and the roles they played in the shaping of our nation, but two were omitted.
One of them is Modjeska Monteith Simkins. Born in Columbia, South Carolina on December 5, 1899,and by the time she died in 1992, Simkins had achieved national recognition as a civil rights leader and political activist who stood up for what she believed and who did not hesitate to challenge the establishment.
In 1935, learning that the Works Progress Administration ( WPA) officials planned to offer blacks only low-skilled manual labor positions, Modjeska and Dr. Robert Mance, demanded better jobs for African-Americans. The result was that the WPA hired black teachers for the schools and black professionals for a state history project and an anti-tuberculosis project in Columbia. These reforms were unique.
Mrs. Simkins understood the importance of participating in the electoral process. She knew that it would take more than just registering and voting to bring about change. She was active in both the Republican and Democratic parties, but then became disillusioned about each. However, she never tied herself down to one party.
As a civil rights activist who grew up when there were few opportunities for African-Americans. In a 1986 interview, she commented: "Today you hear a lot about busing. Well, there never was a whimper when white children were being bused and black children were walking, but when they start busing black children, then comes this bellyaching about busing.
Although she spent her life fighting for civil rights for African-Americans, Modjeska Simkins' concerns and compassion extended to all of societies downtrodden. She should be remembered and honored.
Another is Ella Baker, who was born in 1903 in Norfolk, Virginia. She became involved in political activism in the 1930s. She organized the Young Negroes Cooperative League in New York City, and later became a national director for the NAACP.
Around 1940, Baker became a field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In 1946, Baker became the NAACP's national director of branches.
In 1957, Baker joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, whose first president was Martin Luther King, Jr. She also worked with Stokely Carmichael and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to support civil rights activism on college campuses.
While she left the SCLC in 1960, Baker remained active in the SNCC for many years. She helped Fannie Lou Hamer form the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party in 1964 as an alternative to the state's Democratic Party, which held segregationist views. The MFDP even tried to get their delegates to serve as replacements for the Mississippi delegates at the National Democratic Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey that same year. Baker died in New York City in 1986.
Nearly everyone agree that It takes more than the month of February to discuss or begin to present a true historical view of our people, the nation, and our cultural growth, from the beginning, through the Civil Rights movement, and to the present.
Please watch the Bernie Hayes TV program Saturday Night at 10pm and Friday Morning at 9 am and Sunday Evenings at 5:30 pm on KNLC-TV Ch. 24.
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Be Ever Wonderful!