|Story & photo by Rob Schuette, Public Affairs Staff
Youth in the United States must remember history, help preserve the
advancements prior generations have made, and build upon the lessons it
teaches to create a better future, said Rufus M. Parker.
Parker, a retired Army command sergeant major and currently a minister
in La Crosse, built his presentation for the Feb. 21 Fort McCoy
observance of National African American History Month around the 2013
theme, “At the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality: The Emancipation
Proclamation and the March on Washington.”
Rufus M. Parker speaks to the audience during Fort McCoy’s
observance of the National African American History Month.
Parker stressed the idea of remembering history to help preserve
prior advancements and build upon them to create a better
The Emancipation Proclamation, which laid the groundwork to free the
slaves, was issued 150 years ago in 1863. One hundred years later in
1963, the March on Washington helped usher in the civil rights
advancements of the 1960s.
“We need to bring together all of our understanding of history,” Parker
said. “Blacks or African Americans have served in all wars, since the
Revolutionary War. In World War II, Korea and the Vietnam War, they
fought two wars — one against the enemy and the other against racial
inequality or injustice when they returned to America.”
Parker related how he grew up in the South so he’s aware of some of the
struggles faced by Black individuals and Families. Initially, he had
many white friends so he didn’t experience the prejudice until he began
attending integrated schools in North Carolina.
“It was hard to accept,” Parker said. “So I’m aware of some of those
things ... what it means to be served from the back door. You may have
read or heard what it means to have segregated water fountains and to
ride at the back of the bus.”
The next step is to determine where to go from the situation that exists
today, he said.
America is a rich nation with men and women who have done great and
mighty things, Parker said. Many Americans have sacrificed and given
much to make this a better nation and a better place, he added.
“My goal today is not to get you to focus on the inhumane treatment and
the injustice that many African Americans have gone through in the past
236 years to make this a better nation,” Parker said. “My goal here
today is to get you to see how greatness can be born out of adversity.”
Today, the country is dealing with a generation gap. Generation gaps
happen when two age groups see things in history from different
perspectives, he said.
For Baby Boomers like himself, the March on Washington and the related
civil rights events of the 1960s are historic events that he lived
through and has first-hand knowledge of, Parker said. Generation X
(1965-80) and Generation Y (1981-2000) members don’t have first-hand
knowledge of this time. Consequently, they wonder why they need to know
about this and what was the big deal, he said.
If these things are not passed down or shared directly, the information
can be lost, he said. Parker said he based his presentation on
explaining these topics so people in the younger generations could
“My goal here today is to mend our generations and bring us together and
bridge the gap so that we all have an understanding of Black history,
and that we all understand how much people of color have contributed to
make this a great nation,” he said.
In addition to their successful service in the military and their fight
to improve civil rights, for example, African Americans have made many
important contributions to American society in business, medicine,
sports, the arts and music, among others, he said.
Many historical figures, such as Harriet Tubman of underground railroad
fame and Rosa Parks, whose refusal to sit at the back of the bus helped
spark the bus boycott that ended this injustice, helped move cultural
“This helped judge people for who they are,” Parker said. “It helped
people to ‘do unto others as they do unto us.’ The military has done
much to bring about allowing everyone to fulfill (the Declaration of
Independence’s proclamation of) life, liberty and the pursuit of
For more information about ethnic observances in the Fort McCoy
community, call the Equal Opportunity adviser at 608-388-3246.