“Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.”
So wrote Carter G. Woodson, historian and father of black history, in 1933. Such a record is vital to our world today, and with the start of Black History Month, we’d like to devote this space to a fraction of that record — to the recognition of the achievements of black Americans past and present, from the most famous to the everyday citizen.
We recognize those who are well known in the Joplin area, such as George Washington Carver.
Carver was born to slaves on a farm near Diamond during the Civil War, and attended a Neosho school for black students. He eventually earned undergraduate and graduate degrees and took a job with the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, conducting agricultural research and educating students until his death. His research found many practical uses for peanuts, sweet potatoes and other agricultural products. A deeply religious man, he also was a firm believer of racial equality.
We also recognize those who are perhaps less well known in the Joplin area, such as Annie Fisher.
Fisher, born in 1867 in Boone County, Missouri, was the daughter of former slaves. Unable to complete her education, she entered her recipe for beaten biscuits in the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition and reportedly won a gold medal. She eventually launched her own catering business, attracting customers from coast to coast who wanted her biscuits and fruitcakes. With her income, she was able to send her only child to college and a music conservatory.
And we celebrate black Americans in our community and across the country today who are practicing and advancing music, art, athletics, science, education, mathematics, research, writing and a host of other fields.
We celebrate the small-business owners and the CEOs, the artists and musicians, those who are writing about race and those who are checking in to Facebook, those standing on the shoulders of generations who struggled in the face of adversity.
Nothing could be more important today than to recognize the record of black history in the U.S. As our nation grows more diverse by the day, we must remember our past to find a way forward for the future.
“Understanding the history of black Americans is a key to understanding the strength of our nation,” former President Ronald Reagan said in his first Black History Month proclamation. Former President Barack Obama, in his final proclamation, encouraged the country to “reflect on the sacrifices and contributions made by generations of African Americans, and let us resolve to continue our march toward a day when every person knows the unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
For our part, we’ll pledge to keep the record alive. Happy Black History Month.