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Celebrating Black history

By Chris Quilpa

Black History Month, ending today, is a month-long event to honor and recognize the many accomplishments of African Americans who have made impacts on U.S. history, the arts, politics and civil rights.

As a descendant of a World War II U.S. Army veteran and a retired U.S. Navy veteran myself, I’m grateful to have been exposed to many cultures during and after my 20-year Navy career.

Almost every month, when I was still active duty, from one duty station to another, we had cultural celebrations like the one we’re currently observing. My knowledge and understanding widened each time I participated in these events.

I got more interested in Black/U.S. history when my two grade school children had a project to research and report to class about famous African Americans. I did my research, too, while trying to help them.

One of the people that caught my attention was George Washington Carver, known for his research study on the many uses of “goobers” (old African name for peanuts). With his expertise, he taught the Southern farmers crop rotation.

I can’t wait to see this freedom-loving African American in the new $20 bill when it starts circulation. Her name: Harriet Tubman, the ‘Moses” in modern U.S. history because of her determination to free her fellow African slaves in the 1850s through the Underground Railroad. Joining the suffragist movement, she became an active supporter encouraging and inspiring women to vote.

Famous for his “I Have a Dream” speech, which he delivered on the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a civil rights leader who inspired many to fight for human rights and dignity of not only African Americans but to all Americans, irrespective of color or creed.

The first Black congresswoman in the Deep South who earned a law degree at Boston University in 1959, Barbara Jordan (1936-1996) became a national figure in 1974 with her thoughtful and eloquent service in the House Judiciary Committee hearings on President Nixon’s impeachment.

Her keynote address at the 1976 Democratic National Convention raised her standing as one of the most powerful speakers of her day. After surprising many by not seeking a fourth term, in 1977 Jordan took a position at the University of Texas, where she taught until her death.

A famous poet who has received many awards for his distinguished work, Langston Hughes (1902-1967) was a leader of a movement of writers, musicians, and artists in the 1920s known as the Harlem Renaissance. He wrote novels, short stories, plays, and even operas, but he is best known for his poetry which celebrates the joys and trials of African Americans.

The first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1950, Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000) was a poet, author and teacher. She wrote more than 20 books of poetry in her lifetime. She was 13 when her first book of poetry was published. Her works often dealt with personal celebrations and struggles of ordinary people in her community. She became a U.S. poet laureate in 1985.

It is gratifying to have read (and listened to) some of the works of noted African American writers such as Maya Angelou, Lucille Clifton, Alice Walker, Nikki Giovanni, Rita Dove, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Alex Haley, W.E.B. Dubois, James Baldwin, Barack Obama, and the first person to be named National Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman who became famous for her inaugural poem “The Hill We Climb” at the Jan. 20, 2021, inauguration of Joe Biden, the 46th U.S. president.

Let’s continue to know and celebrate more about Black History Month.

Chris A. Quilpa, a retired U.S. Navy veteran, lives in Suffolk and Portsmouth. He can be reached at chris.a.quilpa@gmail.com.