The Bayonet

Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014

No single African-American leader is ‘more important’ than the rest

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It was nearly a century ago when the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History conceived and announced Negro History Week in 1925. The first “official” Negro History Week was not celebrated until February 1926, and received an overwhelming response. Soon there were black history clubs; teaching materials for students; and people, both black and white, began to step forward to endorse the effort.

The celebration was expanded to a month in 1976, the nation's bicentennial. According to the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History, 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.”

In our nation’s history, prior to Negro History Week or the expansion to African-American History, there have been many courageous, assertive and bold African-American men and women who have fought injustices and stood for the equal treatment of people, regardless of skin color. But who has been the most important? With so many blazing the trail for the leaders, activists and, even, politicians after them, it is hard to just name one.

Over the years we have progressed. A lot of things have changed because of our nation’s willingness to adapt to change.

Twenty years ago, who would have thought an African-American would be our commander-in-chief? The answer, I’m sure, would be very few, but because of so many influential African-Americans from the past, who paved the way for the future, that thought is now a reality.

Before President Barrack Obama, there were those who fought a hard battle for civil rights — Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, the Tuskegee Airmen and Medgar Evers. In 1850, as a runaway slave, Tubman began her journey to free her family. She spent the next decade making an additional 19 trips into the South, escorting more than 300 slaves to freedom.

In 1941, the first all African-American squadron, based in Tuskegee, Ala., became known as the Tuskegee Airmen, eliminating the ban of African American pilots in the United States military.

On a fateful day in 1955, in Montgomery, Ala., Parks refused to give up her seat to a white person, triggering a successful, year-long African-American boycott of the bus system.

Lastly, Medgar Evers, whose life began in the same year as the announcement of Negro History Week and whose service to the nation, the education system and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, spanned the very moment’s in history the Tuskegee Airman and Rosa Parks were helping to shape.

In 1944, Evers enlisted into the still-segregated U.S. Army, where he supported his unit as part of the massive, post D-Day invasion of Europe. He continued his serve in both France and Germany. Following his honorable discharge, he attended college by using the G.I. Bill and was later named the NAACP’s first field secretary in the South, where he fought to integrate African-American students to Ole Miss.

There are so many great African-Americans leaders before, during and after those mentioned here, but it would take me the entire month of February to name each and every one of them and their contributions to our nation.

Each one had a different purpose in life. Their purpose, and their call to action, have provided the freedoms we, as African-Americans, have today, and for that they are all the most important.

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