One more year has passed by, and here we are once again - in celebration of our most profound, unique, African-American history and culture, which has touched the lives of almost every civilization since the beginning of recorded time. We are eternally grateful for the Supreme Court's decision in declaring the month of February to be Black History Month.
One cannot express enough, with godly thankfulness, the shoulders on which we, as a people, have stood on and will continue to stand on. Yes, those shoulders have caused us to stand tall, with perseverance, knowing who we really are. Through the struggles and faith of Harriett Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Mary McLeod Bethune, Phyllis Wheatley, Rosa Parks, Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther King Jr. and many others who have died for the cause, we have come this far by faith.
In that dismal and shameful period of slavery, Negroes had no rights. They did not have the right to determine if they lived or died, they had no right to food or shelter or privacy for their most intimate bodily functions. They did not have control over their own bodies. They could be bought and sold, beaten and raped - and even killed at the whim of their owners. They worked from sun-up to sundown, mostly in the plantation fields, with only the solitude of song in their hearts. They sang the songs of hope and despair (sad songs), however, looking for a brighter day to be with God in heaven. Certain songs were used as codes to alert one another of the master's approach. And to this day, the enemy does not have knowledge of these wonderful codes. Moreover, these same codes are used in the black churches today for the uplifting of the soul.
The Negroes (the slaves) never received wages, sick days or vacations. The children of slaves (12 and under) were taken away and sold. There were signs, which were posted everywhere, that read, "Negroes for sale." Since those days, we, as a people, have made great strides "out of the gloomy past." But we have not yet come to that "place for which our people sighed."
W.E.B. DuBois, the first African-American to receive a Ph.d from Harvard University, an author and editor, exposed the ugly underbelly of racism that continued to keep Negroes in de facto slavery.
We must contest the disenfranchisement as a violation of basic citizenship rights. The U.S. prison population, during the last 25 years, has removed more than 2 million African-Americans from the voting rolls, many of whom may never have their voting rights restored. Meanwhile, inmates in the nearly all-white states of Maine and Vermont can vote from their prison cells.
Also, we must openly contest anyone stating (no matter who they are or what status they are in, how big they might be or their positions), that African-Americans should get off of food stamps, in an indication that we are on the only ones of food stamps. The statistics plainly show that 53 percent of Caucasians, in comparison of 23 percent of African-Americans, are on food assistance.
There are continuing racial disparities in the ability of the nation's public schools to provide an excellent education to all children, especially African-Americans. We must engage with our schools, with emphasis on the schools of excellence (those with high academics.)
If we do not, the current and future generations will be doomed to marginalized lives similar to that of our slave ancestors.
Martin Luther King Jr. stated that he had a dream. That dream is yet continuing. Today, racism has become more sophisticated and subtle. However, it is recognized.
The struggle for all people and equal justice under the law, however, is especially for our children and generations thereafter. If we slack or become complacent, our children will never have a future.
We do not have the luxury of relaxing. The struggle is far from over. We must continue to fight with our voices and rightful actions.
Our struggle for freedom and equality must never end until every vestige of racism and bigotry is rooted out. Our history in this nation has been one of having to run faster and harder than those who have never known the rigors and perniciousness of slavery, and government of the people and by the people, with life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
God of our weary years, God of silent tears, keep us forever in the path we pray.
(Wiggins is president of the Ohio Valley Black Caucus Inc.)