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ZACHARY: Black History Month should be celebrated

February is Black History Month.

The month-long designation celebrates the contributions of black Americans since colonial days.

For generations school children have learned about how Thomas Paine, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin shaped our nation.

While those names have become synonymous with American history, lesser known is the name of Crispus Attucks, who gave his life during the Boston Massacre.

When we think of the Revolutionary War seldom do we think of the thousands of black soldiers that fought for the freedoms they would later be denied.

When we think of the Industrial Revolution we generally do not recognize that much of the economy of the United States was built on the backs of black men, women and children who were not even allowed to vote and who scarcely participated in the prosperity they helped to create.

While many people have read Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” who knows who Harriet Tubman was and the risks she took in the pursuit of freedom?

While we consider the marvels of inventors such as Thomas Edison, names such as Lewis Latimer who invented the filament that made the light possible; Benjamin Banneker, the surveyor who laid out Washington D.C.; Norbet Rilleux, the first man to refine sugar; Granville T. Woods, father of the steam boiler; or Daniel Hale Williams the first surgeon to operate on the human heart, do not roll so freely from our tongues.

Few Americans, regardless of race, have made more significant contributions in the field of education than Booker T. Washington, Carter G. Wood and W.E.B. Du Bois.

Who knows the names, Robert C. Weaver, Edward W. Brooke or Patricia Roberts Harris, or the contributions they made to our federal government?

Who can deny the ways Thurgood Marshall shaped the nation during the 20th century?

Sure, we know all about Generals Douglas McArthur, Dwight Eisenhower and Harry S. Truman.

But, who knows about Brigadier General Benjamin O. Davis, Sr.?

While school children can quote the first sentence of the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, who knows that in an early draft of the Declaration Thomas Jefferson strongly condemned slavery but was persuaded by opposition to remove his strongest statements on the matter from the document, leaving only the words, “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.”

While Martin Luther King Jr. became the standard bearer for the Civil Right Movement, he did not fight that war alone.

Men, women and children throughout the south and all across the United States made great sacrifice and some even gave their lives in the pursuit of equal rights.

In fact, Rosa Parks, 1913-2005, has rightly been called the “mother of the freedom movement,” and there is no doubt her courage paved the path for President Barack Obama to become the first black American president.

Tuesday many people across the nation paused to remember her birthday, and it is fitting that February has been set aside as Black History Month.

Schools, churches, community groups and local governments will be recognizing Black History Month and the contributions of black Americans throughout February.

We encourage our community to take part in celebrations and history programs and to talk to young people — all young people regardless of race — about the contributions these great men and women have made to make our nation great.

— Editor Jim Zachary