January 29, 2010

BLACK HISTORY MONTH REMINDS AMERICANS OF THE IMPORTANT ACHIEVEMENTS OF AFRICAN AMERCIANS

For too long, African American contributions to U.S. history were minimized or ignored. Dr. Carter G. Woodson - the second African American to earn a doctorate degree -- recognized this failure, and in 1926 he established Black History Month as a way to recognize and honor the many accomplishments and vibrant history of African Americans throughout our country's history. From Rosa Parks to The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Marylanders Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, these accomplished men and women have become strong role models for our nation.

Dr. Woodson chose February because of the many important events that occurred in February affecting the African-American community. On February 23, 1868, the renowned civil rights leader W.E.B DuBois was born; on February 3, 1870, the 15th Amendment was passed granting African Americans the right to vote; and on February 12, 1909, the NAACP was created.

One of America's greatest strengths is its rich diversity. During the month of February, we all should    reflect upon the achievements and sacrifices of the African-American community and how they have enriched all of our lives. It also is a time to rededicate ourselves to the ideals enshrined in the U.S. Constitution -- equality, freedom and justice - and making sure they are protected for future generations.

Maryland is fortunate to so many African Americans who made important contributions to our state and our nation. During Black History Month, I would like to highlight the achievements of several African Americans born in Maryland.



Frederick Douglass -- was born a slave in 1818 in Easton, Maryland.   In 1838, he escaped slavery, finally settling in Massachusetts where he became a lecturer for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society and a colleague of William Lloyd Garrison. He published his own newspaper, The North Star, participated in the first women's rights convention at Seneca Falls, in 1848, and wrote three autobiographies. He was internationally recognized as an uncompromising abolitionist, indefatigable worker for justice and equal opportunity, and an unyielding defender of women's rights. He became a trusted advisor to Abraham Lincoln.

Benjamin Banneker --  was born in 1731 on a farm in Baltimore County where he grew up.   At age 21, he saw a watch and he was fascinated by it.   Banneker became a watch maker, making the first striking clock to be made completely in America. His clock was so precise that it struck every hour, on the hour, for 40 years. His work on the clock led him to repair watches, clocks and sundials.  He taught himself astronomy and advanced mathematics, and he also worked closely with Pierre L'Enfant who was the architect in charge of planning Washington D.C.  He has been referred to as "the first Negro Man of Science."

Thurgood Marshall -- was born in Baltimore City in 1908 and became the first African-American justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. He also was part of the legal team in the historic Supreme Court trial Brown v. Board of Education (1954). As a result of this trial, the "separate but equal" doctrine in public education was overthrown. After a successful career as a lawyer and judge fighting for civil rights and women's rights, Marshall was appointed to the high court in 1967 by President Lyndon Baines Johnson. On the high court, Marshall continued his fight for human rights until he retired on June 27, 1991.

 

Harriet Ross Tubman -- was born a slave around 1820 in Dorchester County, Maryland.   She was the most famous "conductor of the Underground Railroad, and during a 10-year span she made 19 trips, escorting over 300 slaves to freedom.  She once proudly told Frederick Douglass that in all of her journeys she "never lost a single passenger."

 

I have introduced legislation to honor the life of Harriet Tubman by creating two national historical parks in her name - one in Maryland and one in New York.   In addition to her work on the Underground Railroad, Ms. Tubman spent her later years in Auburn New York where she was active in the suffrage movement and in providing for the welfare of elderly African Americans

 

Isaac Myers -- was born in Baltimore in 1835.   In 1865 Myers joined a group of black and white investors who raised $10,000 and chartered a new venture, the Chesapeake Marine Railway and Dry Dock Company in Fells Point . Soon the company employed hundreds of caulkers from across the city. The company remained in operation from 1866 to 1884 and served as a base for broad labor organization work by Myers.   In 1869, Myers helped found the Colored National Labor Union , the first large scale, national entity of black workers.  

 

Matthew Henson -- was born in Charles County, Maryland in 1866.   He was a long-time assistant to Commander Robert Peary, and in 1909, Henson - along with Commander Robert Peary and several Inuit - reached the North Pole.   Henson reached the North Pole ahead of Commander Peary.   In 1944, Congress awarded him a duplicate of the silver medal given to Commander Peary.   President Truman and Eisenhower both honored him before he died in 1955.

 

Billie Holiday -- One of the world's most acclaimed blues singers, Billie Holiday was born in 1915 in Philadelphia but was raised in Baltimore, Maryland, which she considered her home. She landed a contract with a major record company, and some of her recordings are considered to be classics in the blues field of music.

 

Henry Blair -- was born in Montgomery County Maryland around 1807.   He is one of the earliest black inventors to receive a patent. He received two patents, one in 1834 for his seed planter and another in 1836 for a cotton planter.   At the time he received his patents, Blair could not write. He signed his patents with an "x."