Black History Month: What's Your Story?

(WFP NVP Augusta Y. Thomas sits in front of the lunch counter where she once protested segregation.)

Black History in the United States is both long and short. It begins with the settlement of America, but due to the brutal oppression of slavery, the stories of our Black American heroes have only recently started being etched into our history books.

Black History Month is a time to recognize those who changed the paradigm of American life -- from Frederick Douglas and Rosa Parks to Jackie Robinson and Martin Luther King, Jr. to those who are not widely known by all Americans -- like Blanche Kelso Bruce, John Sturdivant, and Ella Baker -- but whose deeds have contributed to the prosperity and freedom of all of us.

(Three pioneering African American AFGE leaders appear in this photo; Barbara Hutchinson, John Sturdivant and Rita Mason all helped make AFGE into the organization it is today).

The official theme of 2016's Black History Month is Hallowed Grounds: Sites of African American Memories. The aim is to highlight locations that prompt all Americans to remember that "the imprint of Americans of African descent is deeply embedded in the narrative of the American past."

(Image: The Frederick Douglas House in Washington, D.C.)

Today, it's easy to forget how recently slavery existed and we fail to see its ongoing impact. But, consider this:

  • The trade and enslavement of Blacks has been around longer than Leonardo di Vinci's greatest works of art.  
  • The King James Version of the Bible was published 86 years after slaves began to be shipped to the Americas.
  • By the time Ben Franklin flew his kite, the slave trade had existed for 227 years.  
  • When the steam engine was invented it would still be more than 60 years until slaves were freed.  
  • Canned food has even been around longer than Black Americans have been free by a half-century.   

Now compare that to our own AFGE history. It had only been 67 years from the end of the Civil War when AFGE was founded in 1932 -- not even a full lifetime for most Americans today. It would take 30 years after AFGE was founded for a young woman named Augusta Y. Thomas to sit at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. From there, it would be nearly three decades before an African American would be elected AFGE National President.  

Tell us your story of Black History  

What's your story of Black history? Use this form to add your story to Black History Month. We may select it to highlight on our website and on social media. 

Freedom and equality are not won quickly. It wasn't until the late 1960's that African Americans' right to vote began to be legitimately enforced. Although the 18th Amendment granted all black men the right to vote in 1869 (Black women would have to wait for the 19th amendment in 1920), white supremacist lawmakers passed Jim Crow laws to continue to oppress their former slaves after the Civil War. Although "literacy tests" and poll taxes are gone, voter suppression continues today.

AFGE's Women's & Fair Practices Departments (WFP) are working to make progress move just a little faster. Founded at the height of the Civil Rights Movement and expanded in the 1970's, today's WFP  promotes the civil, human, women's and workers' rights of federal and D.C. government workers through four program areas: education and training, member mobilization/organizing, representation through litigation, and legislative/political action.

Black History Month is a reminder not just of the past but also our potential. AFGE is proud that African Americans serve at every level of our union and play an integral role in our future. We celebrate Black History Month to stand in solidarity with Black heroes of the past, present, and future.

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