February 13, 2013

Milwaukee Courier

Legislatively Speaking: Black History Month – Crossroads of Freedom & Equality

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

This year, across America we celebrate Black History Month under the theme of: At the Crossroads of Freedom & Equality: The Emancipation Proclamation & the March on Washington.  150 years President Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves in America with the Emancipation Proclamation; 100 years later, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood at the Lincoln Memorial and delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech.  Read these words and let your mind draw the picture of the history we have lived through.

“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.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  -- Dr. King, Jr.

This year, we are celebrating at the State Capitol, the lives of influential African-Americans that have changed the world that we live in.  People like the first black police sergeant in the Milwaukee Police Department -- Felmers Chaney.  Rep. Lloyd Barbee, the great champion of the poor and oppressed lead the charge to integrate Milwaukee Public Schools, and the great teacher Lauri Wynn, who also served as President of the Wisconsin Education Association Council are also honorees.  Joining them is Civil War Veteran John Jefferson, who commanded the Wisconsin 8th Infantry Regiment and Tuskegee Airman, Col. James John Powell, who served in the European theatre of World War II. 

These great leaders who have helped to lead us from Emancipation through the March on Washington to where we are today will be honored on Wed, February 20th at a program in the State Capitol at 11am.  The public is invited to attend and participate.  Additionally, the Black and Latino Caucus of the Legislature is hosting a display all this week (Feb 11-15) in the Capitol first floor rotunda of historic photos and artwork from the African-American community in Wisconsin.

As we go about this month, let’s make Black History Month more than a passing thought.  It is a time to remember.  To remember the chains of slavery, to remember the bigotry of Jim Crow, to remember the people that helped us shed our community of both, and to remember that our future can be brighter by doing the same for our children.

“And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

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