Monday, February 1, 2010

“A Worthwhile Tribute”
by John Alexander Madison
February 1, 2010

On August 28, 1963 we heard these words… “Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.” In his memorable and moving address on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Martin Luther King, Jr. continued (in part) “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Abraham Lincoln was, indeed, a great American as was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968).

Dr. King also proclaimed in his “I Have a Dream” speech that “We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.” At that moment, the era of non-violent protest was born.

(Note: Did you know that this speech also included “Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado”?)

Since February 2010 has been designated Black History month it is especially appropriate to recognize several distinguished African-Americans who have made significant contributions to our nation’s heritage.

The Tuskegee Airmen consisted of 994 black pilots each of whom possessed a strong personal desire to serve the United States of America to the best of his ability. From 1941-1946 these pilots were trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field (TAAF) in Tuskegee Alabama. They served overseas in combat in North Africa, Sicily and Italy from April 1943 until July 1944. Any student of history will acknowledge the outstanding record of these black airmen throughout World War II.

Frederick Douglass (1817-1895) was a slave born on a Maryland plantation who urged President Lincoln to free and arm the slaves. He was also a spokesman for universal suffrage, women’s rights, and world peace. He was a candidate for Vice President in 1872 on the Equal Rights Party ticket and was appointed minister to Haiti in 1889.

George Washington Carver (1860-1943) was one of the truly great men of his time. Born of slaves in Missouri he revolutionized agriculture in the South. At the Tuskegee Institute he become one of the world's most respected and honored men, he devoted his life to understanding nature and the many uses for the simplest of plant life. He is best known for developing crop-rotation methods for conserving nutrients in soil and discovering hundreds of new uses for crops such as the peanut. ( The first U.S. federal monument dedicated to an African-American was dedicated to Dr. Carver at the Tuskegee Institute on July 17, 1960.

W.E.B. DuBois (1868-1963) was an author, educator, historian, sociologist, philosopher, poet, intellectual, and radical. In 1903 he wrote "The Soul of Black Folks." He may be best known for his debate with Booker T. Washington regarding the type of education needed by African Americans, Washington advocating vocational educational and DuBois believing a liberal arts and humanities education was the road to success. He was a founder of the NAACP and the first Black to receive a PhD from Harvard University.

Jesse Owens (1913-1980) was the track & field hero of the 1936 Olympic Games where he won four Gold medals and there was nothing Adolph Hitler could do about it, not even depart the stadium just as Owens was about the perform in the long jump. He was national director of physical education for the Office of Civilian Defense (1940-1942) a job he considered the “most gratifying work I have ever done.”

Scott Joplin (1868-1917) was a truly great pianist and composer. My favorite is “Maple Leaf Rag” which has been performed countless times to near perfection by Tommy O’Boyle, of Broadmoor’s lakeside lounge fame. He composed two operas and over sixty piano songs including “The Entertainer.” Joplin was the master of ragtime music.

Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993) was the first African-American justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, appointed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1967. Previously, he was one of a the team of lawyers in the historic Brown vs. Board of Education trial (1954) in which the “Separate but equal” doctrine on public education was overthrown. Speaking of Supreme Court justices Clarence Thomas is certainly no slouch.

Rosa Parks
(1913-2005) was a pivotal figure in the civil rights movement. She refused to relinquish he seat to a white man and move to the back of the bus and the Supreme Court case which followed determined that segregation on city buses was unconstitutional.

Jackie Robinson (1912-1972) broke the color barrier when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 11, 1947. He played for the Dodgers ten years and played in six World Series. He was the first African-American inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY (1962). Hank Aaron (1934- ) comes to mind as the pre-steroid era home run superstar.

Dred Scott (1795-1858) was a slave who sued for his freedom after being moved to Wisconsin which had become a “free” state. He lost the case but the decision was reversed on appeal. After another appeal he lost but the political revolts which followed led to the Civil War. (see Dred Scott vs. Sanford, 1957).

Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) was a Virginia-born slave who was freed by President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. A civil rights activist, professor, poet and write he dedicated his life emphasizing that education was the means through which blacks would obtain equality. He founded the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute and the National Negro Business League. (see W.E.B. DuBois)

At this point you may be thinking about others who should be included in any review of significant African-Americans in our nation’s history. There are many and here are a few more.

Ray Charles (1930-2004) , the pioneer of soul music; Michael Jackson (1958-2009), the King of Pop; Harriet Tubman (1821-1913) abolitionist, humanitarian, Union spy; Marian Anderson (1897-1993) American contralto; Arthur Ashe (1943-1993) and Althea Gibson (1927-2003) all-time tennis greats; Louis “Satchmo”Armstrong (1902-1971) jazz trumpeter; John Coltrane (1926-1967) jazz musician , saxophonist; Oprah Winfrey (1954- ) entertainer, philanthropist; Cassius Clay (1942-) “The Greatest”; Mahalia Jackson (1911-1972) The Queen of Gospel; Maya Angelou (1918- ) autobiographer and poet; Langston Hughes (1902-1967) writer, poet; Bill Cosby (1937- ), actor, comedian, activist, aka Fat Albert and Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable.

The fact that you may have a list of many, many more noteworthy African-Americans is a good thing…the list is, indeed, endless. During the month of February let’s join in the celebration of Black History in America.

P.S. If you were waiting for a couple of obvious omissions, how about Eldrick Tont Woods (1975- ), very good golfer and serial cad; and #44 (1961- ), good husband, good father and serial spender.

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