BLACK HISTORY MONTH in America is a time to take a look back at the difficulties that blacks faced in a country whose founding fathers decreed was a place where all men were created equal. Inasmuch as we were created equal, we haven’t always been treated that way. On this the last day of BLACK HISTORY MONTH, I wanted to take time out to share a few BLACK HISTORY facts.
*A grad student at the University of Texas in Arlington has found a rare new poem written by the first black published writer in America, Jupiter Hammon. In his first published book, Hammon referred to slavery as the will of God. That was in 1760. In this new poem, he refers to it as a man-made evil. Though Hammon was the first black published writer in America, a couple of my favorite black poets are Maya Angelou and Langston Hughes.*
*Virginia Key Beach was designed as a unique vacation spot strictly for blacks in 1945. Built in Dade County, Virginia Key Beach was the answer to Florida’s whites-only beach problem pre-civil rights. Prior to its establishment, NAACP activists staged a “wade-in” at nearby Baker’s Haulover Beach, which was whites-only. Although the organization had hoped for a spectacle and arrest, the city officials refused to acknowledge their request and decided to address the issue with segregation. That prompted the birth of “Virginia Key Beach, a Dade County Park for the exclusive use of Negroes,” in 1945.*
*After more than 100 years, the U.S. Census Bureau will drop the term “Negro” from its race description and use the term black or African American. The term Negro was first used in the 1900 census, replacing the word “colored.”
The term “Negro” originated with the Portuguese and Spanish explorers who used the actual word for the color black in their language to describe Sub-Saharan African people. Although in the first census in 1790, the categories were: “free white,” “all other free persons” and “slaves.” Though Negro has come to be an offensive term to some in the black community, it is not offensive to me.*
*Yesterday, President Obama presented the unveiling of a magnificent 9-foot statue of Rosa Parks in Statuary Hall on Capitol Hill. This year marks the 100th birthday of the civil rights icon. The statue is the first of an African American woman in our nations’ Capitol.
On Dec. 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama for refusing to give up her seat on a municipal bus to a white man. Her arrest sparked the Montgomery bus boycott and other boycotts around the country. Rosa Parks was called, the mother of the freedom movement by many.*
*Professional stone mason August Williams was one of only two African American constructors that built the Martin Luther King Memorial at the National Mall. Williams was a masonry student of New Orleans who was taught to do everything the old-fashioned way, by hand. He worked as an on-call minute-man before taking on larger products like Arlington Cemetery and the National Museum of the American Indian.
August Williams came out of retirement to work on the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial. Williams “made a call and made them an offer they couldn’t refuse” on the project. He believed that it was necessary for an African American stone mason to work on the statue. Upon arrival at the memorial site, Williams shed a tear when the reality and magnitude of the project set in.*