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You name the battle, you name the cause, we were there. Not just as servants or docile mendicants, but as principals.

We Were There

Growing up in America means many different things to many people. Growing up in an atmosphere where race played the most significant part of your everyday life is something that for most Americans, especially today, would have very little meaning. When, as students in the all-Negro school, we were called upon to stand and sing a song that proclaimed us as being human and worthy, it was a respite from the toil of self-doubt and legal deprivation. The Negro National Anthem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing," was taught and known. And although there was pride in the airing of the anthem, there was the pathos of reality. For shortly after the last words had wafted though the air, the return to reality was there to remind us of what we faced in trying to pursue life, liberty and happiness. The inspirational words and rhythmic cadence soon subsided. But with me, there was always the lingering question as to how "hope unborn" could die. I came to know that it's like saying you've got to give chance a chance, and without hope, even as dismal and unrecognizable as it is, all else is lost. With the purposeful misconstruing of affirmative action by its critics, we must put the question anew. How do you correct the racial injustice of the past, of granting privilege or preference to the majority by legally confining the minority race to inferior status? We must say to those who object, call it what you want, but correct it. W.E.B. DuBois predicted that America's problem "is the problem of the color line." He said that at the start of the 20th century. Dubois' prophecy will come into its own in the century we have just entered. We still have those who want full participation in whatever America has to offer. Years of denial, doors slammed in their faces, crosses burned and even violence perpetrated have caused protests and some violent response. When you consider the psyche and the shaped mentality that resulted, little wonder it took so long for the movement against white racism to gather steam. The problem was and is not the rejection of the white majority by minorities, but the rejection of the minorities by the white majority. As we embark on this new millennium, we must not disparage our past but use it for a full appreciation of from whence we have come as a people and as a nation. Let us continue to demand what is right and to criticize what is wrong. We must walk in tandem with those who truly understand that America's destiny is to manage the complex problems of race, free enterprise and scientific advancements as well as those things that affect us on global levels. These will be the things to which we must commit our fullest resources. We have not done the best that we could have done in the past 20th century. If we do not delude ourselves into believing that we have, then as a nation we can make certain aspects of the dreams and aspirations and the prayers and songs come close to fulfillment. This is that time of year dedicated to African-American history. A Republican candidate for his party's nomination for governor was chastised and rebuked by his opponent for suggesting that America needs to have a more inclusive approach to the teaching of history to our young people. This should let you know how painfully slow has been the process of educating Americans about who Americans are and what their contributions have been. For those who still question the need for the month of February being so designated and who call for "equal time," the answer is that all of the time has previously been spent ignoring the existence and contributions of those persons, previously called Negroes, to the developing and furtherance of the nation. If the events of the month's observances are to be no more than just feel-good exercises, salving the consciences of some while bolstering the pride of others, then this month's celebration has missed its mark. I have purposefully refrained from citing exploits and contributions because to name a few while ignoring others would be a disservice. It is important first to note that at no time in this country's history was there a period when these involvements with the developing and defending of this nation were not made by African-Americans. You name the battle, you name the cause, we were there. Not just as servants or docile mendicants, but as principals. And for far too long, the world and the nation have taken little if any account of these contributions to the causes that this nation rightfully proclaims as the American Dream. The African-American community's ignorance of this history is sad. It has been frustrating for me to discover the depth of this ignorance. When I was in school, "Negro History" was taught as an elective course in one of the two Negro high schools. This situation has not changed much since that that time. Little wonder that all of us know so little, and that African-American History Month is the greatest opportunity for most of us to learn about this history. It is my dream that we will, as citizens of this country, arrive at a time when we can collectively share in extolling those persons and events that make up our heritage. We just might come to the conclusion that as human beings we are remarkably more similar than we have realized. With that understanding we could achieve even greater things together. The truth is that we've already done so much together. A genuine effort could produce wonders. L. Douglas Wilder served as governor of Virginia from 1990 - 1994. He is now distinguished professor in the Center for Public Policy at Virginia Commonwealth University. Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.

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