By Karen Wells | CNA Media Team
Have you heard of National Freedom Day? It’s celebrated Feb. 1, commemorating a congressional resolution built from the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863.
Feb. 1 also ushers in Black History Month, a time to focus attention on the achievements and contributions of people of the African-American diaspora.
In February 1865, President Abraham Lincoln presented Congress a signed resolution proposing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution changing the legal status of more than three million Americans of African ancestry from “slave” to “free.”
A nine-year-old child of African ancestry living in Georgia as a slave grew to become an officer in the Spanish-American War, banker, distinguished educator, college president and civil rights activist.
His name was Maj. Richard Robert Wright Sr., founder of National Freedom Day Association. Under his leadership, the association repeatedly lobbied Congress to establish a national observance commemorating the signing of the 13th Amendment, which outlaws the practice of applying property law to people.
That former slave died in 1947. The following year, President Harry S. Truman signed a bill proclaiming Feb. 1 National Freedom Day, a precursor of Black History Month.
His life overlapped that of Carter Godwin Woodson, historian, scholar, educator, activist, journalist and publisher. In 1926, the historian launched a celebration of Negro History Week the second week of February.
He selected that week to honor the life of social justice activist Frederick Douglas, whose birthday is Feb. 14. Fast forward to 1969, Kent State University’s (KSU’s) Black Students United, supported by KSU African-American professors, proposed changing the name from “Negro History” to “Black History” and extending the observance to the entire month.
1970 was the first year Black History Month was observed in academic and cultural centers of Portland, and across the nation. In 1976, Black History Month garnered national support during the U.S. bicentennial when President Gerald Ford urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history. ”
From the early 1900s to the present, African American Portlanders have served in the military. African Americans in military service demonstrate patriotism, and more important, contest the myth of white supremacy.
In 1918 50 African Americans were drafted by the Selective Service System to travel 110 miles north for training at Fort Lewis. They were the first of many black men deployed to the front lines of France in World War 1.
Black Concordians have served in military conflicts and crises since then. Is Portland’s history punctuated by black Concordians’ achievements and moxie? Thanks for asking.
Editor’s note: Karen consulted several sources for this piece and shares them with you on Facebook.com/groups/ConcordiaPDX. Do you have a cross-cultural question for her? Send it to CNewsEditor@ConcordiaPDX.org
Karen Wells is a retired early childhood community educator, health and safety trainer.