The actor Morgan Freeman and others have said that Black history is, in fact, American history. They are quite correct. The contributions of people of African descent in this country are numerous and have helped to shape the very fabric of our country.
The celebration of Black achievements in American history and culture began in 1926 when the acclaimed historian, Carter G. Woodson, who headed the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in Washington, D.C., named the second week of February “Negro History Week.”
Dr. Woodson chose that week because President Abraham Lincoln and the abolitionist Frederick Douglass were born in February. The concept was embraced by Blacks and people of good will in America. In 1976 the celebration of Black history expanded to a full month.
In this country Black people, who first arrived in 1619, have been among the great scholars, inventors, medical professionals, clergy, engineers, public servants, athletes, lawyers and business developers who have helped to build America.
One of the important things to remember about Black History is that it belongs to all Americans, and should be cherished not only by Black people, but all people. The farmer in Iowa, the sheet metal worker in Pittsburg, the computer executive in San Francisco, the hair stylist in Miami and the horticulturist in Arizona have all been enriched because of the contributions of people who labored to make a difference, and who suffered because of the color of their skin.
Here in the state of Texas the contributions of Black people have been fundamental to the development of the state. History records the first casualty of the Texas Revolution as Samuel McCulloch, Jr., a free Black man who was fatally wounded in 1835 during a battle with the Mexican Army.
Blacks fought valiantly during the Civil War. D.W. Burley, a Black captain in the Union Army, led a battalion of Black soldiers who gained a reputation for being disciplined and accomplished combatants, winning significant battles.
At the conclusion of the Civil War, the Texas Constitutional Convention gave free African American males the right to participate in civil litigation, purchase and sell property and testify in courts of law in cases involving other African Americans.
Forty-three African Americans served in the Texas State Legislature between 1868 and 1900. In 1912, the first Texas chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was launched in Houston.
In 1966, the late U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Jordan was elected to the Texas State Senate, becoming the first Black Senator in Texas since the 1800’s. She later became one of the most celebrated constitutional scholars to ever serve in Congress. She also was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the nation’s highest honors.
Today, Black people continue to contribute to the vitality, growth and reputation of Texas and the nation. In January the entire world watched the second inaugural of the first African America President, Barack Obama.
And while we have accomplished much during our journey to correct past injustices, we must continue to pursue justice and fairness for all people. Some day the American dream must become a permanent reality in the lives of all people.