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Guest column/Woodson, Parks, King helped lead the way

As I think and ponder my heritage, I am so godly proud of who I am — that is, to be an African American woman in these latter days.

I am certainly grateful for Carter Godwin Woodson during the observance of Black History Month. Woodson founded Black History Month in 1926. Convinced that education was the key to racial advancement, he became an historian, educator, author and intellectual.

The son of former slaves, Woodson left home in 1892 to work in the coal mines of West Virginia. There he entered high school, finishing after a year and a half. After graduating from Berea College in 1903, he was hired to teach in the Philippines, which the United States had acquired following the Spanish-American War.

Later, he spent a year traveling throughout Asia, North Africa and Europe, then returned to the United States, where he became the only African American of slave parents to earn a Ph.D. in history, from Harvard University in 1912.

The modern-day civil rights movement began in the 1950s, when African Americans (Negroes) were not allowed or permitted as passing to ride in the front of buses. African Americans had to give up their seat on a bus to a white woman or white man, after blacks who wanted to ride a bus were required to board, pay the fare and then exit and re-enter the bus by the rear door. Bus drivers frequently pulled away before such riders could re-board. If all the seats in the white section were taken, blacks were required to move so white passengers could have their seats. In other words, we, as African Americans, could only ride the city bus in the rear, or in the back.

In 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man and triggered the Montgomery, Ala., Bus Boycott, which thrust Martin Luther King Jr. into a leadership role, after he was summoned from his first organizational role in the Southern Leadership Conference. He traveled to Montgomery through the NAACP, heeded the call and became a national figure. The boycott lasted 381 days and ended only when the United States Supreme Court ruled that segregation on city buses was unconstitutional.

Parks lost her job because of her actions, but was hired as a staff assistant to U.S. Rep. John Conyers of Detroit. She is known as the mother of the civil rights movement.

One of the memorable moments of my life came when I had the chance to sit down with Parks at the 1990 NAACP convention in New York.

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, keep us forever in thy path, we pray.

(Wiggins is the president of the Ohio Valley Black Caucus.)

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