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Ventura County Perspective | PERSPECTIVE ON BLACK HISTORY

A Time to Take Pride in Heritage and Move Forward

February 04, 2001|WILLIAM H. THRASHER | William H. Thrasher lives in Oxnard

What does the observation of each February as Black History Month mean to African Americans in Ventura County? What meaning can it convey to other Ventura County residents?

Carter Woodson, the son of slaves, in 1912 earned the second doctoral degree awarded to an African American by Harvard University. In 1915 he founded the Assn. for the study of Negro Life and History. In 1926 his organization sponsored a series of activities to honor the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who were born during the second week of February.

These two men pushed the causes of African Americans and were to be honored by emphasizing outstanding individuals of color and studying the life and culture of the descendants of slaves.

Woodson's hope was that these acknowledgments would develop a mutual respect between races. Since its inception, the organization he founded has fostered the relationships among other ethnic groups as well. In 1972 at its convention in Cincinnati, the delegates voted to change the name to the Assn. for the Study of Afro-American Life and History. In 1976 the association expanded the week-long observance to a full month, as it is today.

In Ventura County, African Americans make up less than 2% of the population--about 16,000 people. Many of us are the only African American in our particular workplace or organization. This month we are reminded to take pride in our heritage. It is important that we know who we are.

This knowledge of our ancestry includes our understanding of the struggles our people have encountered and overcome to give us an opportunity. Not only should we honor Lincoln and Douglass but also the thousands of Africans and African Americans who gave us the intestinal fortitude to continue our quest for full inclusion in this society: our great-great-grandparents, grandparents, parents and other members of the larger village who cajoled and motivated us to be the best we could be.

The slaves who wove blankets and rugs with secret codes to aid those on the Underground Railroad should never be forgotten. Those black men of the Massachusetts 54th Regiment who gave their lives for the cause of freedom during the Civil War are heroes. So are the stalwarts of the civil rights movement.

To our white brethren and to other religious and ethnic groups: We ask that you continue to receive our overtures to be included in communities here. Get involved in your organizations and push for the recognition of African Americans and the issues that affect them.

Numerous civic, educational and religious organizations will sponsor events to highlight the significance of the month. Attend and learn and take the messages home and to your work and social clubs and incorporate them into your lifestyle.

Today I will be participating at the fifth annual African-American Read-In at Adventure for Kids, 3457 Telegraph Road, Ventura, sponsored by the Ventura County Reading Assn. Readings will begin at 1 p.m. I will be reading some passages from "This Litte Light of Mine," a book about the life of civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer. In my judgment she was one of the great people of the 20th century. This sharecropper galvanized the civil rights movement in the Mississippi Delta and made it possible for black people to become politically involved and transform their lives in the quest for first-class citizenship.

Black History Month is a time for coming together. Let us come together and continue the process started by Carter Woodson and then go beyond February.

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