CAMP ATTERBURY, IN, UNITED STATES
CAMP ATTERBURY JOINT MANEUVER TRAINING CENTER, Ind. – Service members and their friends and family gather at the Sgt. Charles H. Seston U.S. Army Reserve Center to celebrate this year’s Black History Month observance, at Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center, Ind., March 8.
Hosted by 205th Infantry Brigade, the theme of this year’s event is “At the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality: The Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington.” The theme marks two major milestones in the fight for civil rights and black history.
“At first glance one may ponder the historical significance between two events separated by 100 years of human history,” said Leonard C. McKinnis, the national policy director of the Center for Labor and Community Research in Chicago. “In most cases such a historical gap will in fact yield radically different narratives, especially given the ever-changing social and cultural contexts. But the reality is that these two events … are interconnected and united by a central cause that undergirds and shapes the spirit of both of occasions.
“That is the cause of human freedom and equality.”
The birth of this observance began in 1926, when historian Carter G. Woodson, who has a doctorate in history and founded the Association for the Study of African American Life of History (ASALH), sought to create a date to recognize and honor the heritage, accomplishments and contributions made by black Americans to society. However, limiting the historical and modern impact of the Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington to only the African American experience is a myopic understanding of freedom and equality, McKinnis added.
“In the end these two freedom events not merely addressed the racial divide that haunted our nation, but directly answers the fundamental question: what does it mean to be human,” McKinnis asked? “This is the genius of both of Abraham Lincoln and the organizers of the march on Washington represented by Martin Luther King, Jr., that is, that to be American includes one’s ability to flourish and thrive and proposer without regard to race or social standing.”
Richard Drummond, a supply technician with the 205th Infantry Brigade, agreed.
“Whenever you focus on any one group, you are excluding another,” said Drummond, of Baltimore, Md. “It doesn’t matter whether you are Jewish, Native American, homosexual or a member of any other minority group in the end you are talking about human rights."
Drummond added that starting a more inclusive conversation helps us see that these are not individual problems, that they do not separate us, but bring us together and help us move beyond the question of race and tackle a more pressing question what does it mean to be human?
McKinnis went even further. Artificial distinctions between human persons are just that: artificial, he said during his speech. That is, biological and social variations inflated for the purpose dehumanizing some while giving prestige and honor to others.
“When you are born you are the sum of your genetics, when you reach adulthood you are the sum of your experience that is the strength of the American experience,” said Capt. Micah Turner, Future Operations Chief for the 205th Infantry Brigade. “When we identify ourselves as a hyphenated version of that - African-American, Native American, Asian-American – we lose the strength of that combined strength.”
These divisions can create material divisions in our society which would potentially lead to class and social warfare, added, Turner, of Carney, Okla. Both the Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington appealed to a higher understanding of our humanity that does not commence with those qualities that divide us.
Sgt. 1st Class LaTonya Terry-Matthews agreed it’s time for a change.
“I loved his speech, his point of view really made me stop and think,” said Terry-Matthews, of Washington. “Being African-American, I grew up with grandparents who were the children of slaves, my parents, aunts and uncles, talked about Martin Luther King, I grew up in a mixed neighborhood and joined the military to experience other peoples cultures.”
Terry-Matthews used Frank Wills, the black security guard who uncovered the Watergate burglary, as an example of the kind of people who should be honored during Black History Month.
“For my children, Black History Month is less about the color of their skin and more about the humanity of a man that drives him to make the right decision,” Terry-Matthews said. “Oliver North and many of the others involved became famous. Wills died broke and unemployed after being blacklisted. He is a hero, not for the color of his skin, but for doing the right thing.”
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