News Article

Cardin celebrates ‘Legacy of Progress,’ highlights Black Marylanders’ untold stories during Black History Month
February 17, 2024


By: Staff

U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Special Representative on Antisemitism, Racism and Intolerance for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, submitted remarks into the official Congressional Record honoring Black Americans who have influenced Maryland and U.S foreign policy and highlighting the untold stories of Black Americans in celebration of Black History Month.

“Black History Month, like many of our cultural heritage months, should be a time to illuminate stories that may otherwise get lost. Overlooking such stories, especially in a state like Maryland, a place rich with Black history, would be a travesty,” said Chair Cardin.

A copy of the Chair’s full remarks has been provided below:

Last week marked the beginning of Black History Month. And so, I come to the floor today to celebrate the important roles Black Americans have played both in my home state of Maryland and in U.S. foreign policy.

Paying homage to our country’s rich Black heritage— including learning about the challenges Black Americans have overcome—makes our nation stronger, both at home and abroad. But in recent years, this history has become increasingly polarized and politicized.

The rise of the ‘war on woke’ has led to a growing hostility toward diversity and inclusivity. It has led to the re-writing, and even omitting, of brutal, but significant parts of our nation’s story.

We cannot allow this to overshadow our celebration. We must not shy away from studying our nation’s history with thoughtful critique. We should not settle for sanitized lessons of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks and others in America’s classrooms.

Because Black History Month, like many of our cultural heritage months, should be a time to illuminate stories that may otherwise get lost. Overlooking such stories, especially in a state like Maryland, a place rich with Black history, would be a travesty.

Maryland—the site of Kunta Kinte’s arrival at the docks in Annapolis, as told in Alex Haley’s “Roots.” Maryland—home to greats like Harriet Tubman and Thurgood Marshall. Maryland—where Black waterman have lived on the Eastern Shore for generations.

This week, I had the privilege of meeting with Black watermen and their families. Families who were some of the original stewards of the Chesapeake Bay. They were boat captains and admirals, fishermen and entrepreneurs, oyster shuckers and crab pickers.

They laid the foundation for the aquaculture and maritime industry that’s so heavily stitched in the fabric of Maryland’s culture. They were descendants of William Samuel Turner whose family owned and operated seafood processing enterprises that anchored Bellevue, a historic African American neighborhood on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Frederick Jewett—one of the first in the Chesapeake Bay to sell crabs and crabmeat and developed the crabmeat grading system that we still use today. Capt. Eldridge Meredith Sr.—a waterman and entrepreneur who was honored as the 101st Admiral of the Chesapeake Bay. And Downes Curtis, one of the country’s few Black sailmakers who was renowned for his skillful craftsmanship.

They were descendants of the often-overlooked Black women, like Hazel Cropper also known as “Hurricane Hazel,” who worked in the packing houses picking crabs. Women who became the backbone of Maryland’s crab meat industry.

These Black Marylanders left a legacy of progress and success, but their stories also echo a system of inequality that exists today. Many of Maryland’s Black watermen were redlined. They couldn’t get loans. They weren’t paid fairly. And they lacked access to capital to keep their businesses afloat when they suffered economic hardship.

Maryland’s Congressional Delegation has made federal investments in historic preservation to ensure that Maryland’s Black history is told because it has laid the foundation for Wes Moore, Maryland’s first Black Governor…Adrienne Jones, Maryland’s first Black Speaker of the House of Delegates…Anthony Brown Maryland’s first Black Attorney General…Dereck Davis, Maryland’s first Black State Treasurer…and Brandon Scott, Baltimore’s youngest Black Mayor.    

Of course, Black leaders have not only contributed to Maryland but to our nation like Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Marcia Fudge, EPA Administrator Michael Regan and OMB Director Shalanda Young.  And now, we are proud to have our first Black woman on the Supreme Court, Justice Kentaji Brown Jackson.

And, Black leaders have contributed around the world. And so, as Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I also want to take a moment to highlight the incredible contributions of Black Americans in U.S. foreign policy.

Ebenezer Bassett the first Black diplomat who served as Ambassador to Haiti from 1869 to 1877…Nobel Laureate Dr. Ralph Bunche, who mediated the 1949 Egyptian-Israeli Armistice Agreement and fought for African independence…Ambassador Edward Perkins and Dr. Richard Hope, founders of the Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship…

Valerie Dickson-Horton, one of the first Black women to serve as a USAID Mission Director and Assistant Administrator…Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams…And Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the United States Ambassador to the UN. These are pioneers and visionaries who have advanced our national security.

The truth is that America’s diverse talent pool is one of the most valuable assets we have on the global stage. And yet, in the last twenty years the number of Black employees at the State Department has decreased.          

It is why the Department, USAID, DFC, Peace Corps and all of our international Affairs Agencies must expand their diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. And, following the tremendous efforts of Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, I am awaiting the announcement of the State Department’s new Chief Diversity Officer.

Hard-won progress made thanks to the Rangel, Pickering, and Payne programs alongside paid internship programs must continue. Exchange programs and research partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities must grow. With four HBCUs in my state, I can personally attest to the brilliance and talent these institutions contribute to our nation’s global food, health, climate, economic, and other efforts which bolster national security.

With the appointment of Desirée Cormier Smith as our nation’s first Special Representative for Racial Equity and Justice, our nation has also increased its efforts abroad. From the North American Partnership for Equity and Racial Justice Declaration to the UN International Decade for People of African Descent. Our country is playing an important role in protecting the rights and recognizing the contributions of African descendants across the globe.

At the Foreign Relations Committee, we now have our first Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion—Dr. Mischa Thompson—to help advance these efforts in the Senate, our international agencies, and across the globe. But we must all join this effort.

And so, as we celebrate Black History Month, let us all recommit to fighting to overcome prejudice and oppression. Let us never give up hope that with determination and commitment, we can build the world Dr. King dreamed of. A fair world…a just world…a better world.

We can do it as long as we remember what Ralph Bunche said, that “anything less than full equality is not enough.”