By Rev. Dr. Tommy Davis
Reflecting on black history month I care to be reminded of the foundational advancements that clever African-Americans made in our society. Not only were their precedents valuable, they were made in the midst of malicious discrimination and prior to the enactment of some civil rights laws; as in the case of John Hyman, a former slave born in North Carolina who was elected as a Republican to the 44th Congress in March of 1877. In spite of being sold to slaveholders in Alabama, the Honorable Hyman overcame the disgrace of prior captivity and took on a political career after the culmination of the Civil War. His political influence would surpass ten years.
Further inspiration should be the appointment of Jeremiah Haralson —born a slave on a Georgia plantation in 1846; self educated, yet was elected as a Republican to the 44th Congress in 1875 where he served for two years. This Alabama representative, also a minister, was raised in servitude and did not consider failure as an option.Jefferson Franklin Long, also born a slave on a Georgia plantation in 1836, was elected to the 41st Congress as a Republican in 1870. Who knows, while a slave, whether The Honorable Long thought he would be Georgia’s first black Congressman.
Edward Brooke, an African-American Republican from Massachusetts, was the first black man elected to the Senate in 1966 by a popular vote even though three centuries had passed since Massachusetts in 1641 was the first colony to legalize the slave trade. Senator Brooke had also served as attorney general of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts after having been elected in 1962; and then reelected in 1964, the same year of the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
There are many more African-American notables in the archives that would dismantle the contemporary myths that the primary reasons blacks lag behind is due to systemic racism. I see more evidence that would allow me to suppose that some pause at the rear due to erroneous expectations from government intervention coupled with a paternalistic analysis of economics and leadership.The honorable mentioned share some key components. They took responsibility for their lives, obtained an education, and participated in government by becoming a personal contributor to influence change. They understood that by becoming key players in authority they could limit the effects of inequity. The solution here was not additional legislation, but participation in enforcing the laws already on the books.
When the Republicans sought to protect southern blacks by passing the Civil Rights bill of 1866, they had to override President Johnson’s veto. The same Congress subsequently drafted the Fourteenth Amendment (ratified in 1868) that nullified the Dred Scott decision of 1857 that said slaves nor descendants of liberated slaves could become citizens.
Section Two of the Fourteenth Amendment also terminated the Three-Fifths Compromise that counted five slaves as three persons for the purposes of apportioning the number of representatives to Congress from southern states. Sometime thereafter, in March of 1877, Frederick Douglas who escaped a Maryland plantation, eventually became the first black to receive a chief government appointment by being named U.S. Marshal of the District of Columbia.
Black history month would serve well as a remembrance of men like Thurgood Marshall, the first black U.S. Supreme Court Justice, and the Honorable Clarence Thomas, our current conservative Bush Sr. appointee, who believed that in order to create a level playing field, we must be in a position to put into effect and translate into reality the principles that would confirm that all men are created equal. Hence, the primary legacy of black history month should be to accept no excuses for failure and always be determined to become an asset within our communities.