Black History Month

by Kevin Henning, KCDP Chair
for the “Progressive Views” column, Boerne Star, February 15, 2019

Adults and children holding signs with MLK Jr quotes in Boerne Main Plaza

The recent MLK Day March in Boerne was attended by 360 folks as reported by the Boerne Star.  Attendance grows every year and it is especially wonderful to see folks from different political viewpoints represented.  Rich Sena, whose column often appears next to this column, was pictured marching on the front page of this paper.  This demonstrates that people of good will  can agree that working to end racial hatred and bigotry is still a priority.

As a white male originally from the Midwest, I do not have much standing to comment but I do want to tell a few stories about folks who have fought for freedom in the past.  I also recognize that Morgan Freeman has opined that we don’t need a Black History Month; it should just be part of American History.  Until we all finally become color blind I don’t see anything wrong with a month commemorating Black History.

January 31, 2019 was the 100th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s birth.

In the early 1960’s, I watched the original “The Jackie Robinson Story” on TV.  The film was made in 1950 and Jackie played himself.  I was struck by the cruelty and indignity heaped on Mr. Robinson.  He was brilliant and one of the greatest athletes of his time.  Reading his biography further educated me and focused my attention and actions on the Civil Rights movement of the time.

Most folks know the history of Jackie Robinson but here are a few highlights.  He won awards for scholarship and citizenship in high school.  He lettered in football, basketball, track and baseball in high school and college.  On the side he was also a champion tennis player.

Jackie Robinson
“Jackie Robinson, 1950” is a US Information Agency photo in the public domain as a US Government work under 17 USC ยง105

He entered the military in WWII and attended officer candidate school after having to fight for admission.  Lieutenant Robinson had his “Rosa Parks” (arrested for her refusal to ride in the back of a Montgomery, Alabama bus in 1955) moment when he refused to ride in the back of an Army bus.  Even though Army regulations eliminated the color barrier he was court- martialed on trumped-up charges only to be unanimously acquitted.  He established a reputation for being committed to non-violence but always stood tall against an onslaught of bigotry.

In 1947 he broke the color-barrier in Major League Baseball and suffered continued affronts, never striking back but showing the world his dignity with his stellar play.  Ending a 10-year Hall of Fame career with a .311 batting average, he went on to a business career becoming Vice President of Chock Full o’Nuts Coffee.  Acting, television broadcasting and being a non-violent civil rights activist filled out his life.  Unfortunately, diabetes shortened his time  and he passed away at the age of 53. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously.

The remarkable career of Ida Wells is another testament to strength of character.  Born a slave, she became an educator, journalist, international lecturer, organizer and champion of the civil right and suffrage movements of her time.  Her journalism exposed the horrors of lynching and the Jim Crow era.  She was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).  Her “Rosa Parks” moment occurred on a train 1884 when she was asked to give up her seat in a first-class women’s car.  She refused and was dragged out of the car.  She won an ensuing lawsuit only to lose in the Tennessee Supreme Court on appeal.  She was constantly threatened yet she persevered.

Ida B. Wells
“Ida B. Wells” (public domain photo, copyright expired)

Many male black activists thought she was too radical solely because she was a woman who spoke up.  The suffrage movement was unwelcoming to blacks.  Asked to walk in the back of a suffrage parade with the “colored delegation”,  Ida Wells remained in the crowd and stepped into the white delegation when it passed by.  This courageous black women left a major mark on history.  She was 68 when she died.

Dr. Lawrence Nixon is not as well known as Jackie Robinson and Ida Wells but he did have significant impact on his community and on voting in Texas.  Dr. Nixon moved from East Texas to El Paso to escape persecution in 1909. He was a humanitarian who provided free medical services to the poor and was loved in the community for his good works.  He was a charter member of the El Paso NAACP and in 1923 challenged a Texas law that prohibited him from voting in the Democratic Primary.  With help from Thurgood Marshall and other NAACP lawyers he prevailed twice at the Supreme Court and after an amazingly long 20 years the all-white Texas primary was finally abolished.  He died at the age of 83.

These are three heroes, among many, to be remembered during Black History Month.

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