An Op-Ed and Sharing Moment from Rosa Colquitt, PhD, DPO Black Caucus Chair
The celebration of Black History Month, coming within days of the national holiday commemorating the birth of civil rights hero, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is truly an amazing and inspiring story in the context of this nation’s history, and especially so in the state of Oregon.
Many people, well-intentioned, but less well-informed, remain unaware of Oregon’s history of racism as a “whites only” state. In 1857 when Oregon was drafting its constitution to become a state, it specifically wrote in the exclusion of Blacks:
“No free negro or mulatto, not residing in this State at the time of the adoption of this constitution, shall ever come, reside, or be within this State, or hold any real estate, or make any contract, or maintain any suit therein...”
Oregon, like Southern states, passed laws aimed at denying Constitutional Rights to Blacks. The state legislature even refused to ratify the 14th and 15th Amendments of the Constitution.
It was against this historical backdrop of the degradation and legal invisibility of Black people that Harvard-trained historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson, created a specific time of cultural celebration in 1926, during the month of February. The goal was two-fold: to educate America about the presence and significant contributions of Black Americans to every fabric of American society; and to honor their struggles and triumphs in persevering through Slavery, Jim Crow, and the continuing trauma of covert and overt racism.
Fast-forward to February 2019, Mr. Lonnie Bunch, founding director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African History and Culture, raises the issue that some scholars and political figures still question the impact and value of a month dedicated to one community, and whether Black History month still matters 90 years after Dr. Woodson’s vision.
For me, the answer is a resounding “YES.” Now more than ever, with the election of the 45th President, we are facing a time of unprecedented intolerance with the re-emergence of white supremacy and white nationalists. As recently as November 2018, the FBI reported that hate crimes surged by 17% in the United States in 2017. I believe, in the current social and political climate, we must strongly embrace Black History Month, as well as the beauty and diversity of all other cultural celebrations.
While Black History Month is a celebration, it is also a reminder of the road ahead that we can expect to travel. As we celebrate how far we’ve come, we, the members of the DPO Black Caucus, also recognize the work ahead to bring about real change in the Democratic Party of Oregon.
We must have the courage to bring light to issues that make us uncomfortable. We must commit to the effort and achievement of the kind of success that will inspire others to have sincere, genuine conversations about inclusivity and EQUITY. And, very importantly, I believe we too often miss the most fundamental benefit of Black History Month -- reveling in pride in self and community -- when we fail to inspire others to join with us to work to create an environment more conducive to combating inequality and racism locally, statewide, and nationally.
The DPO Black Caucus is proud to bring together a whole host of community organizations and leaders in celebrating Black History Month 2019. We look forward to our annual Leadership Forum and screening of the award-winning documentary, “Standing on My Sisters’ Shoulders.” We can think of no better way to celebrate Black History Month 2019 than to honor the commitment, bravery, and leadership of many courageous Mississippi civil rights heroines. After this film, we will never forget Fannie Lou Hamer, Annie Devine, Unita Blackwell, Mae Bertha Carter, or Victoria Gray Adams.
Thanks to our co-sponsors: Portland Branch NAACP, Nasty Women Get S**T Done, Greater Portland NOW, the DPO Stonewall Caucus, and the Multnomah County Democrats.
Happy Black History Month to All from the Democratic Party of Oregon Black Caucus.
Rosa Colquitt, PhD
Chair, DPO Black Caucus,
Former Chair, Washington County Democrats, 2014-2016