Weekly Columns

February is a time dedicated to celebrating the achievements, contributions and efforts of African Americans to our nation’s heritage and culture. We commemorate the heroes of the African American community who fought injustice and triumphed in the face of adversity. We honor the sacrifices of the brave men and women who persevered through the challenges and celebrate those who championed equality for all Americans. 

In our state, communities mark this occasion with concerts, presentations, art displays, and guest speakers. This is a special time of year to reflect on the ways the African American community contributes to the fabric our nation. 

We can be proud of the involvement of Arkansas’s African American community. Following the Emancipation Proclamation, President Lincoln allowed the formation of Black Union regiments. Official government records show 5,526 African American men served in the Union Army from Arkansas. African Americans helped bring law and order to the frontier. One of the most well respected lawmen of all time, Deputy U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves, who worked under Judge Isaac C. Parker, spent more than 32 years in law enforcement arresting more than 3,000 felons. 

African Americans from all walks of life played an integral role throughout our history. If you visit Washington, D.C. you can see efforts underway to appropriately recognize these contributions on the National Mall. The Smithsonian’s newest museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture is taking shape. While work has already started, we are celebrating the official groundbreaking of the museum this week including a speech by President Obama. This museum will highlight and honor the influences of the African American community in life, art, history and culture with an expected opening date in 2015. 

We must recognize the achievements and accomplishments of people like Dred Scott, Frederick Douglass, Harriett Tubman, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Dubois, Jesse Owens and Langston Hughes. We will never forget the heroics and bravery of nine Little Rock students who were turned away at the doors of Central High School but courageously returned the next day, paving the way for equal opportunity education in Arkansas and across the country.

 Booker T. Washington once said “success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has had to overcome while trying to succeed.” There have been many bumps in the road to equality for African Americans, but our country is stronger and encouraged because of generations of people and citizens like the Little Rock nine who challenged its ideals. These men and women fought for the promises of our Founding Fathers that all men are created equal. 

While much progress has been achieved on the front of equality, there are obstacles that remain and we need to continue building on the actions of the generations who fought to get us here today. We can reach equality but it will take the effort of all Americans.