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ROSE NOLEN: Black History Month reflects on past, celebrates progress

Tuesday, February 14, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:28 p.m. CST, Tuesday, February 14, 2012

It's Black History Month and time for some of us to gather for our annual visit.

It was in 1619 that the first blacks are said to have landed in Jamestown, Va., having traveled aboard a Dutch frigate. The blacks, three of whom were said to have been women, joined whites who were already indentured servants in America.

By the early 1700s, indentured servitude had been replaced by a more desirable form of free labor called slavery. From that moment until former President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, an overwhelming majority of blacks were held in slavery.

The story of the struggle from slavery to first-class citizenship was a long and tedious one. From 1863 to 1954 blacks endured life under the tyranny of a so-called ‘separate but equal’ status known to be more separate than equal.

After years of continued struggle, in 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court declared segregation of the public schools illegal and the schools were summarily desegregated. Continued protest and marches brought the landmark passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Voting rights, fair housing and laws against discrimination in the workplace followed shortly thereafter and within a few years African-Americans were finally free to live under the protection of the same laws that governed everyone else.

The heroes and heroines who endured that long struggle live on in the hearts and minds of their descendants.

And while racism continues to make its presence felt, laws have been passed to prevent the violence of days gone by, and African-Americans arrived at the swinging door of the 21st century feeling at peace with themselves and their neighbors. They are no longer forced to live in segregated neighborhoods or work at places where they are discriminated against. Where there are problems, solutions have been put in place to deal with them.

Today in America, the president and commander-in-chief is a biracial person of black and white parentage. Because of his brown skin, there are many who find themselves unable to treat him with the respect due a leader of the free world.

And once again voting rights are at stake. The Missouri House gave first-round approval to a bill that would require a photo ID to vote. We understand that there are some who cannot let go of the hatred and animosity that they have carried like helpless babies from infancy. If they are unable to get their people to the polls, then they feel they have no other choice but to keep others from voting against them. They won’t win.

Some see Black History Month as an excellent time to share histories and cultures. With so much information available, this is a great learning opportunity. Choosing a person or event to study during this month, with children, might encourage one to become a serious student in which case he or she may want to continue with that project when the month is over.

In observing Black History Month, one can also learn about the unfortunate things that have happened in our history — the many ways people have of depriving others of their humanity and how sharing false information influences people to turn against others for all the wrong reasons.           

As we travel through this century we see the world around us growing smaller. We discover how important it is that we live together in peace and harmony. Every day, of course, we find ourselves facing new challenges as we work our way to a brighter future for the next generations.   

Let us move quickly toward tomorrow.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or emailing her at nolen@iland.net.


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