This was my speech for Black History Month:
Good Afternoon – faculty, staff, and friends. I am honored to speak at this year’s 2016 Black History Month Program. Giving honor to African Americans that have paved the way for me to be able to walk, talk, and accomplish my goals with ease is truly a blessing, because I do not have to endure what they did. I am truly grateful for their sacrifices, their persistence, and their determination to achieve equality. Some may associate Black History month with more prevalent African American names such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Rosa Parks. Some may also associate Black History Month more so with the Civil Rights Movement of the mid-1900s. Yes, it is true these legends carried a heavy burden on their shoulders in the “Fight for Right.” But this battle, this fight started since earlier settlers of America decided they needed assistance in the production of tobacco in 1619. For every year we were entrapped in these harsh circumstances was an African American that dedicated his/her life through fighting, dying, and writing to bring us one step closer to equality. This speech will encompass those Black heroes that history rarely mentions or credits.
“Liberty is equally as precious to a black man, as it is to a white one, and bondage equally as intolerable to the one as it is to the other.” Lemuel Haynes, an influential African-American religious leader who argued against slavery, wrote this in response to Thomas Jefferson’s, Declaration of Independence famous introduction, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
In the history and founding of our country We credit various white leaders and dedicate statues to these monumental figures, never once reasoning that it took an army, a multitude of diversity to get to where we are today. Growing up I remember studying in my history textbooks people such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin, and maybe a few other names signed on the Declaration of Independence solely responsible for the founding of this great nation.
Our generation is quick to recognize these political figures as, what we would call, ‘mainstream’ politicians and soldiers of the 17 and 1800s; as the historical heroes, but what about the rest, what about the Blacks that advocated for America’s fight?
This country has failed to recognize the diverse effort dedicated to building this country by preachers and politicians, blacks and whites. The irony of it all is, modern society does not credit these iconic African American figures, but yet our Founding Fathers had the decency and respect to recognize these notable people in their journals and other written works. You actually will discover that they have an extremely different list of people who are responsible in the founding of our great nation. People like John Adams pointed to not only white preachers such as, “Rev. Dr. Johnathan Mayhew & Rev. George Whitfield” but to prominent African American preachers, as well, such as Richard Allen (an African American religious leader, first and founder of the African American Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, and a renowned advocate of individual rights of all Americans including African Americans),
Absolem Jones (the first African American preacher ordained in the Episcopalian church, and an active abolitionist who petitioned the wrongs of slavery and the slave trade), John Marrant (an African American preacher whose sermon became famous and preserved on the ‘equality’ of all men), and Lemuel Haynes (a patriot hero and African American pastor who was most known for his manuscript “Liberty Further Extended”) . Along with these individual achievements, these African American men emphasized the importance of individual rights to include those of African Americans which helped lay the foundation for the America we know today!
But no one knows them!!!!
Not only is it rarely recognized that blacks assisted in the foundation of this country but it is seldom taught that blacks and whites were fighting side by side to win this country and their freedom!!!!
Everyone knows the famous “Midnight Ride of Paul Rivere” but what we do not know is that simultaneously Wentworth Cheswell, a renowned black civic service leader holding various positions in office and local government, rode North on the same mission. He was also an honorary patriot leader who was hand-selected by his community to serve as the messenger for the Committee of Safety. This committee was known as the central nervous system of the American Revolution that carried intelligence and messages back and forth between strategic operational centers. He undertook the same task as Paul Revere, making an all-night ride to warn citizens of imminent British invasion.
But no one knows him!!!!
Most are unaware that Peter Salem, a black patriot, was the hero in the Battle of Bunker hill. Although, he is clearly painted in a famous picture, received special honors, awards and commendations for the killing of British Major John Pitcaim and the preservation of many American lives in this battle…
…No one knows him!!!
Even in the famous picture of “The great crossing of the Delaware River” …George Washington was accompanied by Prince Whipple and Oliver Cromwell. 2 African Americans that served throughout the American Revolution with the general and the general’s staff.
But no one knows them!!!
And, even at the last battle. “The Battle of Yorktown” — Accompanying Gen. Marquis de Lafayette was James Armistead. The first African American double agent who risked his life in an attempt to gain the trust of British Generals Cornwallis and traitor Benedict Arnold. In his efforts to gain their trust he was successful in obtaining information from the British and supplying crucial military information to the continental army which ultimately led to America’s victory in the American Revolution.
But no one knows him!!!!
Although, historically we have many African American heroes that contributed to the foundation of the United States of America, we only have one statue located in the District of Columbia to commemorate the fight, the struggle, the bloodshed, the protests, the walks, the many innocent killings, and the sacrifices of and for the many African Americans that served selflessly for the rights of many. Knowing that we have finally earned a spot in D.C. to honor a magnificent contributor, Martin Luther King Jr., for equal rights of African Americans, it feels even better to understand that we have a piece of our past, our legacy that is engraved into American history. That is more exhilarating than you will ever know!!!
I will close with a quote by our President Barack Obama.
In accepting that there is only one America does not mean that we erase our past, but we embrace our history and preserve our culture to emanate in a progressive future of intellectual growth, wise decisions, and momentous movements.
(Inspired by a sermon by Dave Burton.)