With one week left to complete the celebration of February’s Black History Month we can look back through the cultural history of the contributions of Black Americans to our country. It is safe to assume at some level we have come a long way. It is also assumed we still have to complete the journey of truly becoming a melting pot of all cultures and, races.
History reminds us of the 1954 Brown v Board of Education landmark Supreme Court decision that declared state laws establishing separate public school for black and white students unconstitutional. In most places at that time it included Hispanic students as well. I was eight years old at the time.
As a former teacher who also taught a History class or two over the years, I covered some of those statistics and information in the classroom.
The triumph paved the way for integration and was a major victory of the civil rights movement at the time.
As one who has seen major changes in my life time from segregation to the turmoil of the sixties to the eventual national Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday that was signed into law in 1983, I am still amazed at our progress.
I remember when President Ronald Reagan actually signed it, and it was first observed three years later. I would point out that at first; some states resisted observing the holiday as such, giving it alternative names or combining it with other holidays. It was officially observed in all 50 states for the first time in 2000.
Back in 1964 the year I graduated high school in June, the Congress passed the Civil rights Act of 1964 on July 2nd that outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin.
It ended unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, at the workplace and by facilities that served the general public known as "public accommodations." That same day President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the law at the White House. In fact I still remember watching the President live on our small Black and White TV, doing so.
The year before the President signed that legislation, I also watched the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “I have a Dream” speech on live TV, in the summer of 1963, August 28th.
Who could forget the assassination of Black Activist Malcolm X in 1965 in Harlem, N.Y., or Dr. King’s assassination in Memphis Tennessee, April 4th, 1968? I was in my sophomore year in college in Fort Worth when Malcolm X was shot and my senior year when Dr. King was shot.
The summer after I graduated college just before I joined the Army I took a Black History class at Southern Methodist University in Dallas to learn about the contributions of Black Americans over the years. I was shocked to discover what some of them contributed to our country over the years. I had heard of many of their contributions but no one pointed out that they were Black Americans!
Did you as the reader know for example that it was Charles R. Drew a black surgeon who pioneered techniques for preserving blood plasma that saved countless lives during World War II? Later he became medical director of Freedmen's Hospital in Washington. In his research he discovered that pure plasma could be used for blood transfusions. Who knew? I didn’t until I took that class so many years ago.
Black History Month reminds us that people of every color or race are still a part of the American dream to be all that we can be and add to the fabric of this country.
And as always, what I write is “Just a Thought.”
Steve Walker is a Vietnam Veteran and former Justice of the Peace and Journalist.