As we come together to celebrate another Black History month, we take the time to reflect on the achievements, contributions, struggles and progress of African Americans in America. This annual celebration has existed since 1926, yet despite America's acknowledgment of black heritage; we must remain vigilant and cautious, continually evaluating the rightful place of African Americans in our society. We must respect one of our country's greatest assets. I am always disappointed when critics pose the dueling question, "Why do we need to celebrate Black History Month?" Though I seldom argue with such critics, I do feel compelled to inform people about our country's sad history with regard to the treatment of African Americans, but more so, the significance of race in America. The contributions of African Americans are more important today than at any other time in our country's history. After the election of our nation's first African American President, there were increased expectations that America would undergo a fundamental change in attitude about race and race relations. Yet today we continue to witness events in Ferguson, MO, New York City and other American cities that leave us gasping for a solution to America's social cancer--race.
As Americans, we must reflect on the 300-year struggle against racism and oppression in a country that still today refuses to acknowledge and apologize for its wrongdoing. We must acknowledge that African Americans were an integral part of shaping American history, and our history would not be the same without the black experience. Many of us are unaware that history books left out the fact that one of George Washington's closest confidants was an African American named Samuel Fraunces who advised him on many of his battles. Crispus Attucks a fugitive slave in Massachusetts, became the first martyr of the American Revolution. The African American slave trade played an economic key element in the American Revolutionary war, but also built large scale economies in England, America, Holland and many European countries, all of which benefited from the African American slave industry, both directly and indirectly.
The contributions of African Americans, including civil rights leaders, educators, architects, inventors, scientists, sports heroes, and others, are far reaching. Integration of the races has led many to turn a blind eye to the disparities that the civil rights movement vowed to dismantle. These disparities in education, poverty, criminal justice system (racial profiling, police brutality, etc.), and others sectors of society continue to be a plague in a country that promises so much and guarantees little. Gone are the days of former Alabama's Governor George C. Wallace, who famously preached, "Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!" to resounding applause in 1963. Gone are the days when the "Whites only" and "Colored" signs were prominently over water fountains, bathrooms, and restaurant counters. As we enter the 21st century, silent and not overt racism exists in our school systems, employment, poverty, healthcare, prison system, immigrant communities, and other sectors of societies. It also permeates our society in ways we don't even realize and takes away the best of who we are as Americans.
As we celebrate and acknowledge Black History month, we must respect the legacy of Justice Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court's decision Brown v. Board of Education on school desegregation. One cannot but be proud of what is one of the most important judicial decisions of our American century. In the Brown decision in 1954, the notion of separate but equal was finally struck down. The former notion of "separate but equal" was built on the foundations of white supremacy, which provided legal justification for "Jim Crow" laws that required separate accommodations for whites and blacks in many U.S. states and cities, laws that continued right into the 1960s. Yet, despite this achievement, the Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell University reported that in 1960, only 20 percent of the black population finished high school, compared with 43 percent of the white population. Furthermore, only 3 percent of African Americans graduated from college, less than half the white graduation rate of 8 percent. Yet almost 50 years later, a 2013 report by the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education indicated that 54 percent of young African Americans were graduating from high school, and 42 percent of African American students were graduating from college, still less than half the rate of white graduates. The reports indicate that the vast majority of our nation's highest-ranked colleges and universities have shown significant improvement over the past quarter-century, but at the same time, there is a 20 percent gap in the graduation rate between white and black students. We must reflect on educational improvements, a substantial increase, but at the same time we should not become complacent with this progress in education.
Race relations have always been an important issue in the struggle for equality and reconciliation in America. A recent Gallup poll, dated July 17, 2013, looked at Racial and Ethnic Relations in U.S. The poll found that, when white Americans were asked, "Do you think that race relations between whites and blacks will always be a problem?" some 40% of Americans said that race and black-white relations will always be a problem in the United States. Comparatively, in another survey conducted by Gallup poll in 1964, when the same question was posed to white Americans, some 42% believed that race and black-white relations will always be a problem in the United States. Despite the election of our first African American president, the research shows that little, if any, progress has occurred in the last 50 years when it comes to racial attitudes towards race relations as we enter into the 21st century.
It is some 50 years after President Lyndon B. Johnson declared "War on Poverty," making poverty in America one of his top priorities during his tenure. He not only raised awareness of poverty in black, brown and white communities, but ensured that head starts, food stamps, and other government programs would help reduce poverty and assist America's poor. Yet despite his great intention to raise this issue of poverty, and some 50 years after Dr. Martin L. King' s poor people's campaign, poverty continues to be the cancer that threatens our society and remains a significant factor in many African American communities. According the 2013 U.S. Census Bureau's report on Poverty in America, the poverty rate for African Americans in 2013 was 27.1%,, which is an increase from 25.5% in 2005. The report indicated that the poverty rate increased between 2005 and 2013 for every demographic of African American families. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, the wealth gaps between whites and blacks are at an all-time high. The wealth of white households is 13 times the median of black households in 2013. This is the highest gap since 1989, when white households had 17 times the wealth of African Americans households. The emergence of a successful black middle class--small but powerful African American group that has enjoyed the fruits of its hard work and investments, like its white counterpart-- must be acknowledged. Despite this amazing class mobility, many African Americans continue to lag far behind other races economically.
As we reflect on Black History month, we must truly be proud of the contributions of the African Americans in every aspect of our society. African Americans, despite their history of oppression and exclusion, remain committed to America. We must acknowledge and respect their contributions to our great country, but at the same time, we must also come to terms with the inequalities that still exist in our society. America must never forget.