Black History Month: Looking back, looking forward
CAMP FOSTER, OKINAWA, Japan -- Education is the cornerstone of Black History Month. Reading and learning about influential leaders can often bring to light details that most people don’t know about.
Black History Month, celebrated every February, is a time to learn about African-Americans, like Pfc. James Anderson Jr., the first African-American to receive the Medal of Honor. Anderson received the award posthumously when, during a firefight in the Vietnam War, he courageously grabbed an enemy grenade that landed near his head and brought it to his chest, absorbing the blast and shielding his fellow Marines.
Anderson, along with Dr. Benjamin Hooks, the first African-American member of the Federal Communications Commission, were highlighted in this year’s Marine administrative message 048/15 for Black History Month 2015. Their impact not only changed African-American history, but history itself.
African-American History Month celebrates the achievements of African-Americans and is a time to recognize the role African-Americans have in U.S. history.
“Black History Month actually started as African-American History Week in 1926 by a gentleman named Carter G. Woodson,” said Gunnery Sgt. Darrell W. Clark, an Albany, Georgia, native and the equal opportunity advisor for Marine Corps Installations Pacific-Marine Corps Base Camp Butler, Japan. “It’s designed to get people to learn something about the race that maybe they didn’t know before.”
Woodson chose the month of February to honor past African-Americans in part because of the birth dates of Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglass. As the 16th U.S. president, Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation Jan. 1, 1863, abolishing slavery. Douglass was a freed slave and human rights leader in the abolition movement.
According to this year’s Black History Month MARADMIN, understanding the history of African-Americans is important because it broadens Marines’ and sailors’ knowledge, enabling them to learn more about black history and the nation’s history, as the two are inextricably linked.
“The other day I listened to a radio program and was surprised at how much I didn’t know about things that Dr. King had done for the civil rights movement,” said Master Sgt. Bill J. Shaw, an equal opportunity representative with Headquarters and Support Battalion, MCIPAC. “That’s why I think you really have to be aware and take some time to learn.”
Learning broadens horizons, whether it’s reading a civil rights book, talking to your equal opportunity representative, or just listening to a radio program while driving. There is always something those of us in the present can learn from the past in hopes of influencing the future.
“We shouldn’t just take this month to learn,” said Shaw. “Any time when we have that down time allotted to study a piece of our history, we should because we’ve really come a long way and I’m excited to see where we’re headed.”