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March 08, 2013

Observances

National African American History Month highlights crossroads

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.”
PHOTO: Rufus M. Parker speaks to the audience during Fort McCoy’s observance of the National African American History Month. Photo by Rob Schuette
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 future.

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 understand them.

“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 understanding ahead.

“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 happiness.”

For more information about ethnic observances in the Fort McCoy community, call the Equal Opportunity adviser at 608-388-3246.

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