Full Text Obama Presidency March 7, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Speech at the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery Marches — Transcripts

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery Marches

Source: WH,  3-7-15

Edmund Pettus Bridge

Selma, Alabama

2:17 P.M. CST

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  We love you, President Obama!

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, you know I love you back.  (Applause.)

It is a rare honor in this life to follow one of your heroes.  And John Lewis is one of my heroes.

Now, I have to imagine that when a younger John Lewis woke up that morning 50 years ago and made his way to Brown Chapel, heroics were not on his mind.  A day like this was not on his mind.  Young folks with bedrolls and backpacks were milling about.  Veterans of the movement trained newcomers in the tactics of non-violence; the right way to protect yourself when attacked.  A doctor described what tear gas does to the body, while marchers scribbled down instructions for contacting their loved ones.  The air was thick with doubt, anticipation and fear.  And they comforted themselves with the final verse of the final hymn they sung:

“No matter what may be the test, God will take care of you;
Lean, weary one, upon His breast, God will take care of you.”

And then, his knapsack stocked with an apple, a toothbrush, and a book on government — all you need for a night behind bars — John Lewis led them out of the church on a mission to change America.

President and Mrs. Bush, Governor Bentley, Mayor Evans, Sewell, Reverend Strong, members of Congress, elected officials, foot soldiers, friends, fellow Americans:

As John noted, there are places and moments in America where this nation’s destiny has been decided.  Many are sites of war — Concord and Lexington, Appomattox, Gettysburg.  Others are sites that symbolize the daring of America’s character — Independence Hall and Seneca Falls, Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral.

Selma is such a place.  In one afternoon 50 years ago, so much of our turbulent history — the stain of slavery and anguish of civil war; the yoke of segregation and tyranny of Jim Crow; the death of four little girls in Birmingham; and the dream of a Baptist preacher — all that history met on this bridge.

It was not a clash of armies, but a clash of wills; a contest to determine the true meaning of America.  And because of men and women like John Lewis, Joseph Lowery, Hosea Williams, Amelia Boynton, Diane Nash, Ralph Abernathy, C.T. Vivian, Andrew Young, Fred Shuttlesworth, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and so many others, the idea of a just America and a fair America, an inclusive America, and a generous America — that idea ultimately triumphed.

As is true across the landscape of American history, we cannot examine this moment in isolation.  The march on Selma was part of a broader campaign that spanned generations; the leaders that day part of a long line of heroes.

We gather here to celebrate them.  We gather here to honor the courage of ordinary Americans willing to endure billy clubs and the chastening rod; tear gas and the trampling hoof; men and women who despite the gush of blood and splintered bone would stay true to their North Star and keep marching towards justice.

They did as Scripture instructed:  “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”  And in the days to come, they went back again and again.  When the trumpet call sounded for more to join, the people came –- black and white, young and old, Christian and Jew, waving the American flag and singing the same anthems full of faith and hope.  A white newsman, Bill Plante, who covered the marches then and who is with us here today, quipped that the growing number of white people lowered the quality of the singing.  (Laughter.)  To those who marched, though, those old gospel songs must have never sounded so sweet.

In time, their chorus would well up and reach President Johnson.  And he would send them protection, and speak to the nation, echoing their call for America and the world to hear:  “We shall overcome.”  (Applause.)  What enormous faith these men and women had.  Faith in God, but also faith in America.

The Americans who crossed this bridge, they were not physically imposing.  But they gave courage to millions.  They held no elected office.  But they led a nation.  They marched as Americans who had endured hundreds of years of brutal violence, countless daily indignities –- but they didn’t seek special treatment, just the equal treatment promised to them almost a century before.  (Applause.)

What they did here will reverberate through the ages.  Not because the change they won was preordained; not because their victory was complete; but because they proved that nonviolent change is possible, that love and hope can conquer hate.

As we commemorate their achievement, we are well-served to remember that at the time of the marches, many in power condemned rather than praised them.  Back then, they were called Communists, or half-breeds, or outside agitators, sexual and moral degenerates, and worse –- they were called everything but the name their parents gave them.  Their faith was questioned.  Their lives were threatened.  Their patriotism challenged.

And yet, what could be more American than what happened in this place?  (Applause.)  What could more profoundly vindicate the idea of America than plain and humble people –- unsung, the downtrodden, the dreamers not of high station, not born to wealth or privilege, not of one religious tradition but many, coming together to shape their country’s course?

What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this, what greater form of patriotism is there than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?  (Applause.)

That’s why Selma is not some outlier in the American experience.  That’s why it’s not a museum or a static monument to behold from a distance.  It is instead the manifestation of a creed written into our founding documents:  “We the People…in order to form a more perfect union.”  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”  (Applause.)

These are not just words.  They’re a living thing, a call to action, a roadmap for citizenship and an insistence in the capacity of free men and women to shape our own destiny.  For founders like Franklin and Jefferson, for leaders like Lincoln and FDR, the success of our experiment in self-government rested on engaging all of our citizens in this work.  And that’s what we celebrate here in Selma.  That’s what this movement was all about, one leg in our long journey toward freedom.  (Applause.)

The American instinct that led these young men and women to pick up the torch and cross this bridge, that’s the same instinct that moved patriots to choose revolution over tyranny.  It’s the same instinct that drew immigrants from across oceans and the Rio Grande; the same instinct that led women to reach for the ballot, workers to organize against an unjust status quo; the same instinct that led us to plant a flag at Iwo Jima and on the surface of the Moon.  (Applause.)

It’s the idea held by generations of citizens who believed that America is a constant work in progress; who believed that loving this country requires more than singing its praises or avoiding uncomfortable truths.  It requires the occasional disruption, the willingness to speak out for what is right, to shake up the status quo.  That’s America.  (Applause.)

That’s what makes us unique.  That’s what cements our reputation as a beacon of opportunity.  Young people behind the Iron Curtain would see Selma and eventually tear down that wall.  Young people in Soweto would hear Bobby Kennedy talk about ripples of hope and eventually banish the scourge of apartheid.  Young people in Burma went to prison rather than submit to military rule.  They saw what John Lewis had done.  From the streets of Tunis to the Maidan in Ukraine, this generation of young people can draw strength from this place, where the powerless could change the world’s greatest power and push their leaders to expand the boundaries of freedom.

They saw that idea made real right here in Selma, Alabama.  They saw that idea manifest itself here in America.

Because of campaigns like this, a Voting Rights Act was passed.  Political and economic and social barriers came down.  And the change these men and women wrought is visible here today in the presence of African Americans who run boardrooms, who sit on the bench, who serve in elected office from small towns to big cities; from the Congressional Black Caucus all the way to the Oval Office.  (Applause.)

Because of what they did, the doors of opportunity swung open not just for black folks, but for every American.  Women marched through those doors.  Latinos marched through those doors.  Asian Americans, gay Americans, Americans with disabilities — they all came through those doors.  (Applause.)  Their endeavors gave the entire South the chance to rise again, not by reasserting the past, but by transcending the past.

What a glorious thing, Dr. King might say.  And what a solemn debt we owe.  Which leads us to ask, just how might we repay that debt?

First and foremost, we have to recognize that one day’s commemoration, no matter how special, is not enough.  If Selma taught us anything, it’s that our work is never done.  (Applause.)  The American experiment in self-government gives work and purpose to each generation.

Selma teaches us, as well, that action requires that we shed our cynicism.  For when it comes to the pursuit of justice, we can afford neither complacency nor despair.

Just this week, I was asked whether I thought the Department of Justice’s Ferguson report shows that, with respect to race, little has changed in this country.  And I understood the question; the report’s narrative was sadly familiar.  It evoked the kind of abuse and disregard for citizens that spawned the Civil Rights Movement.  But I rejected the notion that nothing’s changed.  What happened in Ferguson may not be unique, but it’s no longer endemic.  It’s no longer sanctioned by law or by custom.  And before the Civil Rights Movement, it most surely was.  (Applause.)

We do a disservice to the cause of justice by intimating that bias and discrimination are immutable, that racial division is inherent to America.  If you think nothing’s changed in the past 50 years, ask somebody who lived through the Selma or Chicago or Los Angeles of the 1950s.  Ask the female CEO who once might have been assigned to the secretarial pool if nothing’s changed.  Ask your gay friend if it’s easier to be out and proud in America now than it was thirty years ago.  To deny this progress, this hard-won progress -– our progress –- would be to rob us of our own agency, our own capacity, our responsibility to do what we can to make America better.

Of course, a more common mistake is to suggest that Ferguson is an isolated incident; that racism is banished; that the work that drew men and women to Selma is now complete, and that whatever racial tensions remain are a consequence of those seeking to play the “race card” for their own purposes.  We don’t need the Ferguson report to know that’s not true.  We just need to open our eyes, and our ears, and our hearts to know that this nation’s racial history still casts its long shadow upon us.

We know the march is not yet over.  We know the race is not yet won.  We know that reaching that blessed destination where we are judged, all of us, by the content of our character requires admitting as much, facing up to the truth.  “We are capable of bearing a great burden,” James Baldwin once wrote, “once we discover that the burden is reality and arrive where reality is.”

There’s nothing America can’t handle if we actually look squarely at the problem.  And this is work for all Americans, not just some.  Not just whites.  Not just blacks.  If we want to honor the courage of those who marched that day, then all of us are called to possess their moral imagination.  All of us will need to feel as they did the fierce urgency of now.  All of us need to recognize as they did that change depends on our actions, on our attitudes, the things we teach our children.  And if we make such an effort, no matter how hard it may sometimes seem, laws can be passed, and consciences can be stirred, and consensus can be built.  (Applause.)

With such an effort, we can make sure our criminal justice system serves all and not just some.  Together, we can raise the level of mutual trust that policing is built on –- the idea that police officers are members of the community they risk their lives to protect, and citizens in Ferguson and New York and Cleveland, they just want the same thing young people here marched for 50 years ago -– the protection of the law.  (Applause.)  Together, we can address unfair sentencing and overcrowded prisons, and the stunted circumstances that rob too many boys of the chance to become men, and rob the nation of too many men who could be good dads, and good workers, and good neighbors.  (Applause.)

With effort, we can roll back poverty and the roadblocks to opportunity.  Americans don’t accept a free ride for anybody, nor do we believe in equality of outcomes.  But we do expect equal opportunity.  And if we really mean it, if we’re not just giving lip service to it, but if we really mean it and are willing to sacrifice for it, then, yes, we can make sure every child gets an education suitable to this new century, one that expands imaginations and lifts sights and gives those children the skills they need.  We can make sure every person willing to work has the dignity of a job, and a fair wage, and a real voice, and sturdier rungs on that ladder into the middle class.

And with effort, we can protect the foundation stone of our democracy for which so many marched across this bridge –- and that is the right to vote.  (Applause.)  Right now, in 2015, 50 years after Selma, there are laws across this country designed to make it harder for people to vote.  As we speak, more of such laws are being proposed.  Meanwhile, the Voting Rights Act, the culmination of so much blood, so much sweat and tears, the product of so much sacrifice in the face of wanton violence, the Voting Rights Act stands weakened, its future subject to political rancor.

How can that be?  The Voting Rights Act was one of the crowning achievements of our democracy, the result of Republican and Democratic efforts.  (Applause.)  President Reagan signed its renewal when he was in office.  President George W. Bush signed its renewal when he was in office.  (Applause.)  One hundred members of Congress have come here today to honor people who were willing to die for the right to protect it.  If we want to honor this day, let that hundred go back to Washington and gather four hundred more, and together, pledge to make it their mission to restore that law this year.  That’s how we honor those on this bridge.  (Applause.)

Of course, our democracy is not the task of Congress alone, or the courts alone, or even the President alone.  If every new voter-suppression law was struck down today, we would still have, here in America, one of the lowest voting rates among free peoples.  Fifty years ago, registering to vote here in Selma and much of the South meant guessing the number of jellybeans in a jar, the number of bubbles on a bar of soap.  It meant risking your dignity, and sometimes, your life.

What’s our excuse today for not voting?  How do we so casually discard the right for which so many fought?  (Applause.)  How do we so fully give away our power, our voice, in shaping America’s future?  Why are we pointing to somebody else when we could take the time just to go to the polling places?  (Applause.)  We give away our power.

Fellow marchers, so much has changed in 50 years.  We have endured war and we’ve fashioned peace.  We’ve seen technological wonders that touch every aspect of our lives.  We take for granted conveniences that our parents could have scarcely imagined.  But what has not changed is the imperative of citizenship; that willingness of a 26-year-old deacon, or a Unitarian minister, or a young mother of five to decide they loved this country so much that they’d risk everything to realize its promise.

That’s what it means to love America.  That’s what it means to believe in America.  That’s what it means when we say America is exceptional.

For we were born of change.  We broke the old aristocracies, declaring ourselves entitled not by bloodline, but endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights.  We secure our rights and responsibilities through a system of self-government, of and by and for the people.  That’s why we argue and fight with so much passion and conviction — because we know our efforts matter.  We know America is what we make of it.

Look at our history.  We are Lewis and Clark and Sacajawea, pioneers who braved the unfamiliar, followed by a stampede of farmers and miners, and entrepreneurs and hucksters.  That’s our spirit.  That’s who we are.

We are Sojourner Truth and Fannie Lou Hamer, women who could do as much as any man and then some.  And we’re Susan B. Anthony, who shook the system until the law reflected that truth.  That is our character.

We’re the immigrants who stowed away on ships to reach these shores, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free –- Holocaust survivors, Soviet defectors, the Lost Boys of Sudan.  We’re the hopeful strivers who cross the Rio Grande because we want our kids to know a better life.  That’s how we came to be.  (Applause.)

We’re the slaves who built the White House and the economy of the South.  (Applause.)  We’re the ranch hands and cowboys who opened up the West, and countless laborers who laid rail, and raised skyscrapers, and organized for workers’ rights.

We’re the fresh-faced GIs who fought to liberate a continent.  And we’re the Tuskeegee Airmen, and the Navajo code-talkers, and the Japanese Americans who fought for this country even as their own liberty had been denied.

We’re the firefighters who rushed into those buildings on 9/11, the volunteers who signed up to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq.  We’re the gay Americans whose blood ran in the streets of San Francisco and New York, just as blood ran down this bridge. (Applause.)

We are storytellers, writers, poets, artists who abhor unfairness, and despise hypocrisy, and give voice to the voiceless, and tell truths that need to be told.

We’re the inventors of gospel and jazz and blues, bluegrass and country, and hip-hop and rock and roll, and our very own sound with all the sweet sorrow and reckless joy of freedom.

We are Jackie Robinson, enduring scorn and spiked cleats and pitches coming straight to his head, and stealing home in the World Series anyway.  (Applause.)

We are the people Langston Hughes wrote of who “build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how.”  We are the people Emerson wrote of, “who for truth and honor’s sake stand fast and suffer long;” who are “never tired, so long as we can see far enough.”

That’s what America is.  Not stock photos or airbrushed history, or feeble attempts to define some of us as more American than others.  (Applause.)  We respect the past, but we don’t pine for the past.  We don’t fear the future; we grab for it.  America is not some fragile thing.  We are large, in the words of Whitman, containing multitudes.  We are boisterous and diverse and full of energy, perpetually young in spirit.  That’s why someone like John Lewis at the ripe old age of 25 could lead a mighty march.

And that’s what the young people here today and listening all across the country must take away from this day.  You are America.  Unconstrained by habit and convention.  Unencumbered by what is, because you’re ready to seize what ought to be.

For everywhere in this country, there are first steps to be taken, there’s new ground to cover, there are more bridges to be crossed.  And it is you, the young and fearless at heart, the most diverse and educated generation in our history, who the nation is waiting to follow.

Because Selma shows us that America is not the project of any one person.  Because the single-most powerful word in our democracy is the word “We.”  “We The People.”  “We Shall Overcome.”  “Yes We Can.”  (Applause.)  That word is owned by no one.  It belongs to everyone.  Oh, what a glorious task we are given, to continually try to improve this great nation of ours.

Fifty years from Bloody Sunday, our march is not yet finished, but we’re getting closer.  Two hundred and thirty-nine years after this nation’s founding our union is not yet perfect, but we are getting closer.  Our job’s easier because somebody already got us through that first mile.  Somebody already got us over that bridge.  When it feels the road is too hard, when the torch we’ve been passed feels too heavy, we will remember these early travelers, and draw strength from their example, and hold firmly the words of the prophet Isaiah:  “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on [the] wings like eagles.  They will run and not grow weary.  They will walk and not be faint.”  (Applause.)

We honor those who walked so we could run.  We must run so our children soar.  And we will not grow weary.  For we believe in the power of an awesome God, and we believe in this country’s sacred promise.

May He bless those warriors of justice no longer with us, and bless the United States of America.  Thank you, everybody.  (Applause.)

END
2:50 P.M. CST

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Full Text Obama Presidency January 31, 2014: President Barack Obama Issues Presidential Proclamation for National African-American / Black History Month 2014

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Presidential Proclamation — National African American History Month, 2014

Source: WH, 1-31-14

NATIONAL AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY MONTH, 2014

– – – – – – –

BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A PROCLAMATION

Americans have long celebrated our Nation as a beacon of liberty and opportunity — home to patriots who threw off an empire, refuge to multitudes who fled oppression and despair. Yet we must also remember that while many came to our shores to pursue their own measure of freedom, hundreds of thousands arrived in chains. Through centuries of struggle, and through the toil of generations, African Americans have claimed rights long denied. During National African American History Month, we honor the men and women at the heart of this journey — from engineers of the Underground Railroad to educators who answered a free people’s call for a free mind, from patriots who proved that valor knows no color to demonstrators who gathered on the battlefields of justice and marched our Nation toward a brighter day.

As we pay tribute to the heroes, sung and unsung, of African-American history, we recall the inner strength that sustained millions in bondage. We remember the courage that led activists to defy lynch mobs and register their neighbors to vote. And we carry forward the unyielding hope that guided a movement as it bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice. Even while we seek to dull the scars of slavery and legalized discrimination, we hold fast to the values gained through centuries of trial and suffering.

Every American can draw strength from the story of hard-won progress, which not only defines the African-American experience, but also lies at the heart of our Nation as a whole. This story affirms that freedom is a gift from God, but it must be secured by His people here on earth. It inspires a new generation of leaders, and it teaches us all that when we come together in common purpose, we can right the wrongs of history and make our world anew.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim February 2014 as National African American History Month. I call upon public officials, educators, librarians, and all the people of the United States to observe this month with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirty-first day of January, in the year of our Lord two thousand fourteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-eighth.

BARACK OBAMA

History Buzz February 19, 2012: New Museums; the National Museum of African American History and Culture, National Center for Civil and Human Rights & International African American Museum to Shine a Spotlight on Civil Rights Era

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

History Buzz

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

New Museums to Shine a Spotlight on Civil Rights Era

Source: NYT, 2-19-12

Andrew Councill for The New York Times

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington plans to display the lunch counter from an important civil rights protest in Greensboro, N.C. More Photos »

Drive through any state in the Deep South and you will find a monument or a museum dedicated to civil rights.

Multimedia
Haraz Ghanbari/Associated Press

Engraved names on a civil rights memorial at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala. Such monuments are common in southern states. More Photos »

Mike Segar/Reuters

The Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, is now part of the National Civil Rights Museum. More Photos »

Raymond McCrea Jones for The New York Times

An artist’s initial rendering of the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, scheduled to break ground this summer and open in 2014. More Photos »

A visitor can peer into the motel room in Memphis where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was staying when he was shot or stand near the lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C., where four young men began a sit-in that helped end segregation.

Other institutions are less dramatic, like the Tubman African American Museum in Macon, Ga., where Jim Crow-era toilet fixtures are on display alongside folk art.

But now, a second generation of bigger, bolder museums is about to emerge.

Atlanta; Jackson, Miss.; and Charleston, S.C., all have projects in the works. Coupled with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, which breaks ground in Washington this week, they represent nearly $750 million worth of plans.

Collectively, they also signal an emerging era of scholarship and interest in the history of both civil rights and African-Americans that is to a younger generation what other major historical events were to their grandparents. “We’re at that stage where the civil rights movement is the new World War II,” said Doug Shipman, the chief executive officer for the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, a $100 million project that is to break ground in Atlanta this summer and open in 2014.

“It’s a move to the next phase of telling this story,” he said.

The collection at the museum, which is to be set on two and half acres of prime downtown real estate donated by Coca-Cola, will include 10,000 documents and artifacts from Dr. King and a series of paintings based on the life of Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia, by the artist Benny Andrews, who died in 2006….READ MORE

History Buzz February 2, 2012: Victoria Wolcott: University of Buffalo Professor examines 20th-century color line

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

History Buzz

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

Wolcott examines 20th-century color line

Source: University of Buffalo Reporter, 2-2-12

Historian Victoria Wolcott teaches courses on the history of civil rights, African-American history and urban history. Photo: DOUGLAS LEVERE

“The black-and-white dichotomy shapes so much of the (20th century’s) political, cultural and social life.”

Victoria Wolcott Associate Professor of History

The phrase “color line” was used as a reference to the racial segregation that existed in the U.S. after the abolition of slavery. First mentioned in an 1881 article by Frederick Douglass, the phrase gained fame when W.E.B. DuBois cemented it in his landmark 1903 treatise, “The Souls of Black Folk.”

“DuBois said that the story of the 20th century will be the color line and he was absolutely right,” observes Victoria Wolcott, associate professor in the Department of History. “The black-and-white dichotomy shapes so much of the (century’s) political, cultural and social life.”

Influenced by her mother, who she describes as an early feminist with an interest in social justice issues, Wolcott began to explore the effects of that color line as a graduate student at the University of Michigan. In the process, she has become a noted 20th-century historian.

She arrived at UB last fall after five years of teaching at St. Bonaventure University in Olean and nine years at the University of Rochester. She teaches UB graduates and undergraduates the history of civil rights, African-American history and urban history, along with several permutations of those areas, she says, such as the “Race in American Cities” seminar she conducted in her first semester that combined her interests in race, labor and urban history.

Those interests led her to develop her first book from her graduate dissertation, “Remaking Respectability: African American Women in Interwar Detroit,” which was published in 2001.

The book looks at African-American women in Detroit and how their work, culture and politics helped shape the life of the city. “I found that African-American women really were excluded from not only white-collar employment, but from blue-collar as well. The one niche area where they were able to find employment was domestic service,” she relates. “So they created opportunities for themselves by opening businesses, by engaging in what we call the informal economy, which can be anything from running numbers to more illicit kinds of activities. They had a kind of creative response to these restrictions that were placed upon them because of racial discrimination in the job market.”

The study made a significant impact. The book is being used in graduate courses in particular, but also to some extent in undergraduate courses in women’s history and African-American history. “I think I was at the beginning of what has really developed as a new sub-field in African-American women’s history when the book was published in 2001,” says Wolcott. “It was part of this new, growing field of research for people who were interested in the Great Migration of African Americans, urban history and women’s history.”

After a decade of research, her second book, “Race, Riots and Roller Coasters: The Struggle Over Segregated Recreation in America,” will be published in August by University of Pennsylvania Press. To some extent, this derived from her work on the first book.

“I was struck by the extent to which all sorts of public accommodations—particularly recreational spaces—were segregated. We associate that kind of Jim Crow segregation with southern cities and communities, and yet it’s very, very pervasive in the north,” she explains. “I was interested in thinking to what extent is segregation and the struggle against segregation a national story, not a southern story.”…READ MORE

Top Young Historians: 120 – Premilla Nadasen

TOP YOUNG HISTORIANS

Edited by Bonnie K. Goodman

120: Premilla Nadasen, 2-7-11

BASIC FACTS

Teaching Position: Associate Professor, History Department, Queens College, CUNY Graduate Center Doctoral Faculty
Area of Research: African-American history, social movements, poverty and social policy, history of welfare, domestic service work.
Education: Ph.D. in U.S. History, Columbia University, Dissertation: “The Welfare Rights Movement, 1960-1975,” 1999 (nominated for the Bancroft Award)
Major Publications: Nadasen is the author of Welfare Warriors: The Welfare Rights Movement in the United States (New York: Routledge, 2005), won the 2005 John HopePamilla Nadasen JPG Franklin Publication Prize awarded by the American Studies Association for best book in American studies.;
The Welfare Rights Movement: An Introduction
(forthcoming, Routledge 2011);
Welfare in the United States: A History with Documents, co-authored with Jennifer Mittelstadt and Marisa Chappell (Routledge 2009);
She is curently working on Domestic Workers Unite!: Household Workers’ Organizations in the Post-War U.S. ;
The Real Nanny Diaries: Narratives of Domestic Workers.
Nadasen is also the author of numerous scholarly journal articles, book chapters and reviews including among others:

“Expanding the Boundaries of the Women’s Movement: Black Feminism and the Struggle for Welfare Rights,” (Feminist Studies) won the 2002 Berkshire Conference of Women Historians Article Prize; Reprinted in Women, Culture, and Society, ed. Barbara Balliet (Rutgers University Press, 2004, 2007);
and No Permanent Waves: Recasting Histories of U.S. Feminism ed. by Nancy Hewitt (Rutgers University Press, 2010).
“African American Domestic Workers and Politics of Citizenship” (forthcoming Journal of Policy History); Valuing Domestic Work, New Feminist Solutions Pamphlet, with Tiffany Williams, published by the Barnard Center for Research on Women, Fall 2010;
“Tell Dem Slavery Done”: Domestic Workers United and Transnational Feminism, Scholar and Feminist Online (Barnard Center for Research on Women on-line journal) Spring 2010;
“Domestic Workers Take It To The Streets” Ms. Magazine, Fall 2009: 38-40. (Reprinted in Utne Reader, March-April 2010, “Meet the New Nanny”)
“International Feminism and Reproductive Labor” in Workers, the Nation-State and Beyond: Essays in Labor History Across the Americas (Oxford University Press, 2010);
“‘Mothers at Work’: The Welfare Rights Movement and Welfare Reform in the 1960s” in The Legal Tender of Gender: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Welfare Law, State Policies and the Regulation of Women’s Poverty, ed. Shelley Gavigan and Dorothy E. Chunn, (Hart Publishing, 2010);
“Power, Intimacy, and Contestation: Dorothy Bolden and Domestic Worker Organizing in Atlanta in the 1960s” in Intimate Labors, ed. Eileen Boris and Rhacel Parrenas (Stanford University Press, 2010)
“Is it Time to Jump Ship? Historians Rethink the Waves Metaphor” Kathleen Laughlin, Julie Gallagher, Dorothy Sue Cobble, Eileen Boris, Premilla Nadasen, Stephanie Gilmore, and Leandra Zarnow Feminist Formations, (vol 22, no. 1) (Summer 2010): 76-135;
“Sista’ Friends and Other Allies: Domestic Workers United” in New Social Movements in the African Diaspora: Challenging Global Apartheid, ed. Leith Mullings (Palgrave MacMillan 2009); “‘We Do Whatever Becomes Necessary: Johnnie Tillmon, Welfare Rights, and Black Power” in Want to Start a Revolution?: Women in the Black Revolt, ed. Jeanne Theoharis, Dayo Gore, and Komozi Woodard (NYU Press, 2009); “Domestic Workers Organize!” with Eileen Boris in Working USA: The Journal of Labor and Society (December 2008); “‘Welfare’s A Green Problem’: Cross-Race Coalitions in the Welfare Rights Movement” in Feminist Coalitions, ed. Stephanie Gilmore (University of Illinois Press, 2008); “From Widow to ‘Welfare Queen’: Welfare and the Politics of Race” Black Women, Gender, and Families, Vol. 1 (2) (2007).
Awards: Nadasen is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including among others:
Faculty Fellow, Center for Place, Culture and Politics, CUNY Graduate Center, 2010-2011;
PSC-CUNY Research Award, 2006-2010;
CUNY Diversity Projects Development Grant for “Maids and Madams: A Campus-Community Project on Domestic Service Work and Immigration” at Brooklyn College from the University Affirmative Action Committee, Spring 2007;
American Studies Association’s John Hope Franklin Prize for best book in American studies for Welfare Warriors: The Welfare Rights Movement in the United States (Routledge 2005), 2005;
Berkshire Conference of Women’s Historians Award for best article in 2002 for “Expanding the Boundaries of the Women’s Movement” Feminist Studies (Summer 2002), 2002;
Fellowship to participate in Seminar on Human Security at the CUNY Graduate Center, Fall ’01- Spring ’02; CUNY Faculty Fellowship Publications Program, Spring 2002;
Queens College Presidential Research Award, Spring 2001;
PSC-CUNY Research Grants, 2006-2007, 1998-2001;
Aspen Institute Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship, Jan. – Oct. 1997;
Charles Gaius Bolin Fellow in History, Williams College, Williamstown, MA, 1995-1996;
Lyndon B. Johnson Foundation Research Grant, April 1995;
Columbia University Presidential Fellowship, 1991 – 1995;
Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project, Summer Fellowship Stanford University, Stanford, CA, Summer 1991;
Hofstadter – Haynes Fellowship, Department of History, Columbia University, 1990 – 1991.
Additional Info:
Formerly Visiting Associate Professor, Endowed Chair in Women’s Studies, Brooklyn College. Nadasden is A longtime community activist and scholar. Nadasen has written for Feminist Studies, Ms. Magazine, the Women’s Review of Books, Race and Reason, and the Progressive Media Project, and has given numerous public talks about African-American women’s history and welfare policy.
Nadasen has been a contributing Writer, for Progressive Media Project, which distributes opinion editorials to McClatchy-Tribune newspapers across the country. Her articles have appeared in several newspapers, including the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, The Pueblo-Chieftan, The Sacramento Bee, The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Watertown Daily Times, The Orlando Sentinal, La Prensa San Diego, Arizona Daily Star.

PERSONAL ANECDOTE

My commitment to telling poor black women’s stories came to me through activism. I vividly remember my first protest. I was at the Federal Building in downtown Detroit opposing U.S. foreign policy in South Africa. It was 1985 and I was 17 years old. The demonstration had all the key elements: colorful banners, repetitive chanting, fiery speeches, and passersby who either honked in support or jeered in disgust. My feelings vacillated between anxiety and excitement. I was born in South Africa. Although I came to the U.S. at a young age, when I returned periodically to visit family I experienced first-hand the reality of apartheid laws. As a teenager, the brutality of the apartheid regime that I read and heard about in combination with the burgeoning grass roots movement to dismantle it ignited my commitment to social justice. By participating in that protest I came to see the world in a new way-one that recognized how ordinary people contribute to social change.

When I went to the University of Michigan that fall, I joined the student anti-apartheid organization. As we-a diverse group of young women and men-immersed ourselves in political campaigns we talked and thought more deeply about patterns of racism not just in South Africa, but on the college campus and in our communities. One project we initiated was the Black Women’s Oral History Project where we interviewed long-time residents of Ann Arbor. It was from these rather remarkable women-whose names never appeared in my classroom textbooks-that I first learned about the welfare rights movement. I had taken several history and sociology courses about activism and the civil rights movement and was befuddled by the lack of discussion about these poor women on welfare who struggled for dignity and economic justice. In the 1960s, the women in Ann Arbor had collectively mobilized, along with thousands of women across the country, to protect their rights and fight for a better life for their children. I was deeply impressed by their fortitude and their wisdom. These early encounters fostered in me a commitment to pursue scholarly studies about the activism of poor women of color-a commitment that shapes my work even today as I research and write about domestic worker organizing.

Writing about the welfare rights movement taught me many things about scholarship and history. It taught me that intellectualism and theories of social change originate not only with the philosophers and those who sit in the offices of Ivy League institutions. The poor black women who led the welfare rights movement lived and understood racism and class oppression in a complex way. From these experiences, they theorized about gender and how it is informed by racial stereotypes and the welfare system. And they formulated a distinctive politics of empowerment that spoke to their particular location as poor black women. They have a lot to teach us about how power operates, methods of social change, and the meaning of feminism.

Studying this movement has also taught me that historical memory is deeply contested terrain. What we choose to remember-or not-is a reflection of our own values and beliefs. The marginalization of the welfare rights movement in historical scholarship is perhaps indicative of the way in which poor black women are marginalized in the political discourse today. So, for me, Welfare Warriors aimed to complicate the dominant narrative of the 1960s, but also to resurrect the muted voices of the period.

QUOTES

By Premilla Nadasen

  • By the 1960s the welfare system was dominated by myths and stereotypes. Perceptions about black women’s sexuality and notions of the black family and the black work ethic justified cutbacks in assistance and provided  grounds for work requirements. Ideology shaped public policy and, in this case, bolstered popular support for more punitive and repressive policies. Countering some of the stereotypes of AFDC, women in the welfare rights movement demanded that their work as mothers be recognized and insisted that single motherhood was not a social pathology. They sought to increase their monthly benefits through pressure tactics, and to make a moral claim for assistance as mothers. Their analysis demonstrates how gender is mediated by race and class and the way in which race, gender, and class all shape the welfare system. — Premilla Nadasen in “Welfare Warriors”

About Premilla Nadasen

Reviews for Welfare Warriors: The Welfare Rights Movement in the United States

  • Nadasen has written the definitive history of the welfare rights movement that, for a brief moment, turned welfare into a program that helped rather than punished poor women. Carefully researched and fully documented, Welfare Warriors reveals the largely untold story of how poor and working class women came together to fight for a decent life. By exploring the working class black feminism that emerged, Nadasen’s account also broadens and deepens our understanding of feminism. –-Mimi Abramovitz, Professor of Social Policy at Hunter School of Social Work and the City University of New York Graduate Center and author of “Regulating the Lives of Women and Under Attack and Fight”
  • Armed with their own brand of feminism in the 1960s and 70s, Premilla Nadasen’s Welfare Warriors fought militantly and relentlessly against racism, sexism and dehumanizing poverty. They fought their battles in the halls of Congress, the streets of urban communities, and inside the progressive movement itself. Even when they were not victorious, these black women activists were never victims, but rather powerful, complex and committed agents for change. This compelling and compassionate study, meticulously researched and passionately argued, is a must-read for anyone interested in social change politics, feminism or the black freedom movement. –- Barbara Ransby, Professor of African American Studies, University of Illinois at Chicago and author of Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement.

Reviews for Welfare in the United States: A History with DocumentsWelfare in the United States A History with Documents, 1935–1996 JPG

  • “With wide ranging perspectives, nearly century-long coverage, and choice documents, this short but powerful collection shows why welfare remains one of the most contentious issues in public policy. Three cheers for Nadasen, Mittelstadt, and Chappell for this stimulating- and provocative – introduction that highlights the significance of race and gender in women’s lives.” -— Eileen Boris, author of “The New Women’s Labor History”
  • “The story of contemporary welfare policy in the United States is complicated and deeply troubled by poisonous conflicts over race, class and gender. Here, however, we have a telling of the story that is admirably clear and concise, and enlivened by the inclusion of the documents that mark and illuminate the turning points in the story. This will be an excellent teaching resource.” — Frances Fox Piven, author of “Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America”
  • “Dr. Nadasen, is one of the most influencial professors I have ever had the pleasure of being instructed by. Her knowledge of the History, Politics and social constructs are impecable. Her guidance in developing my MA Thesis was immensely useful in defining and enhancing the focus of my research project. She is certainly a mentor…”
    “African American history has become my favorite class this semester. Would recommend taking this class with Prof. Nadasen.”…
    “Outstanding teacher. Materials were relevant to all lectures. Allowed students to explore the subject of Slavery and was totally engaging.”…
    “You should take Prof. Nadasen because she’s so knowledgeable in history that it would absolutely rock your world.” — Anonymous Students

    More Information

  • Premilla Nadasen, First Women’s Studies Endowed Chair at Brooklyn College, To Be Honored on May 16

History Buzz Special: Black History Month 2011

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

History Buzz

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor of History Musings. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.

HISTORY BUZZ SPECIAL: BLACK HISTORY MONTH

https://i2.wp.com/www.flagstaff.az.gov/images/pages/N2172//black-history-month.jpg

IN FOCUS:

  • African American History Month — Library of CongressLOC
  • Black History Month and its significance: The election of Barack Obama into the United States’ Presidential Office was a monumentally historic event for African-Americans, Africans and the entire world.
    Some people don’t like to pull the ‘race card’ when talking about Obama becoming president of the United States, but in my opinion, that is something that cannot be overlooked. Some people also minimise the significance of Obama, a person of colour, making it into the White House by saying that he is not 100 percent black, but is instead bi-racial. ‘Whatever,’ is what I say to that; it is noteworthy that part of Obama’s family and ancestry can be traced to and still lives in Kenya. Anyone who is familiar with the painful history of slavery in the United States surely can appreciate how significant a historic event Obama’s election as 44th president of the United States of America is. When the conscious people in the US celebrate Black History Month this year, they will look to this most recent accomplishment of an African- American with great pride and reflect on what a long journey it has been for African-Americans.
    The month of February in the US is commemorated as Black History Month. During this month, African- Americans, who have helped change the world, are commemorated by people of all walks of life. Black History Month began as “Negro History Week,” which was created in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson, a noted African- American historian, scholar, educator, and publisher. It became a month-long celebration in 1976. The month of February was chosen to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass (one of the foremost leaders of the abolitionist movement, which fought to end slavery within the US in the decades before the Civil War) and Abraham Lincoln (16th US president most remembered for his Emancipation Proclamation, which declared slaves free).
    During Black History Month, universities offer special lectures; television broadcasters air black-history related programming, people gather at fairs organised to celebrate Black History Month and artists, mostly reggae, perform to crowds of the Afro-centric thinker….
    So, why is Black History Month important and necessary? As a firm believer in the importance of history in the present, I offer that it is for that reason that Black History Month is important and necessary. In order to really have an appreciation for where one stands in the present, then one must look at the past….. – MMEGI
  • Clarence Page: Sadly, Black History Month still needed: “This library is not for coloreds.” That’s what Ron McNair, a 9-year-old black South Carolina kid, was told at his local public library in 1959, his older brother Carl McNair recalls….
    Flash forward. Ronald Ervin McNair is better known today for the tragedy that ended his life. He died when the space shuttle Challenger exploded 25 years ago on Jan. 28. In his hometown, Lake City, S.C., the renovated building that housed that library is being renamed after him.
    Appropriately, the observations came as Black History Month events began. That also means a return of arguments — some of them more polite than others — about whether we still need Black History Month at all, especially now that the nation has an African-American president.
    Yet, every time I begin to think we can relax special efforts to remember this nation’s grand racial epic of sorrow and triumph, I am jerked alert by events like some recent ones that show how easily history can be forgotten or twisted even by major newsmakers…. – The Detroit News, 2-13-11
  • Black History Month, it is time to get rid of this celebration: Martin Luther King Jr. was among these, ironically, as he dreamed of a day when people would “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” If we’re teaching about black Americans, or white Americans, or Hispanic Americans, or Asian Americans, we’re doing the exact opposite of what the great reverend preached – we’re accentuating the differences between us, not erasing them.
    We tell children that they should not judge people by their color, then confuse them by insisting that they study a person because that person is black. Famous Amos was included in the assignment! Now, I love cookies as much as the next guy, but having kids read about Famous Amos simply because he was a successful black American is nothing short of ludicrous. Many of these same children have never heard of Gandhi, Churchill or even Ulysses S. Grant. And yet we’re teaching them about Famous Amos before we teach them about George C. Marshall. This is not only diversity on the cheap, but it’s bad educational policy, too…. – NY Daily News, 2-4-11
  • Books roundup: Black history: February is Black History Month, and a popular time for new books about African Americans. USA TODAY looks at four notable titles….
    Jessica B. Harris: High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey From Africa to America
    Clarence Lusane: The Black History of the White House
    Clarence B. Jones and Stuart Connelly: Behind the Dream: The Making of the Speech That Transformed a Nation
    Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts: Harlem Is Nowhere: A Journey to the Mecca of Black AmericaUSA Today, 2-17-11
  • Black History Month: 7 great books for teens: From gritty memoir to evocative fiction, these stories offer powerful lessons about race in America…. – CS Monitor, 2-7-11
  • Black History Month: How to inspire and teach Notable African-Americans offer ways to share the message behind Black History Month: We asked prominent African-Americans to recommend a book, musical composition, movie, play, painting or other work that will teach children of all races and ages lessons about black history. “Frankly, I am so tired of hearing (about) the same old music and about the same old books every February,” said author David Bradley, associate professor of creative writing at the University of Oregon. “Black History Month has gotten to be like Christmas — same old carols, same old cards. … There’s so much more to celebrate than we ever get around to celebrating, or even experiencing.”… – Chicago Tribune, 2-1-11
  • Black History Month: How has Obama changed it?: In that survey, Obama didn’t just make the top 10 of the more than 170 black leaders considered; he ranked second, bested only by King and beating black historical figures such as Harriet Tubman, W.E.B. Du Bois, Thurgood Marshall and Rosa Parks.
    The president’s ranking has set off a heated debate in the comment section of the Grio’s post on the results. And the effect Obama has on black history and Black History Month remains to be seen.
    It might well be the case that Obama’s presidency has allowed the United States to reexamine the history of African Americans under a new lens and with a stronger focus. But there’s also the risk of an Obama vacuum of sorts: The Obama presidency might take attention away from the sacrifices of countless African Americans since the country’s inception. Some even argue that a black man in the White House eliminates the need for us to celebrate Black History Month…. – WaPo, 2-1-11
  • Presidential Proclamation — National African American History Month A PROCLAMATION: In the centuries since African Americans first arrived on our shores, they have known the bitterness of slavery and oppression, the hope of progress, and the triumph of the American Dream. African American history is an essential thread of the American narrative that traces our Nation’s enduring struggle to perfect itself. Each February, we recognize African American History Month as a moment to reflect upon how far we have come as a Nation, and what challenges remain. This year’s theme, “The History of Black Economic Empowerment,” calls upon us to honor the African Americans who overcame injustice and inequality to achieve financial independence and the security of self empowerment that comes with it.
    Nearly 100 years after the Civil War, African Americans still faced daunting challenges and indignities. Widespread racial prejudice inhibited their opportunities, and institutional discrimination such as black codes and Jim Crow laws denied them full citizenship rights. Despite these seemingly impossible barriers, pioneering African Americans blazed trails for themselves and their children. They became skilled workers and professionals. They purchased land, and a new generation of black entrepreneurs founded banks, educational institutions, newspapers, hospitals, and businesses of all kinds.
    This month, we recognize the courage and tenacity of so many hard-working Americans whose legacies are woven into the fabric of our Nation. We are heirs to their extraordinary progress. Racial prejudice is no longer the steepest barrier to opportunity for most African Americans, yet substantial obstacles remain in the remnants of past discrimination. Structural inequalities — from disparities in education and health care to the vicious cycle of poverty — still pose enormous hurdles for black communities across America.
    Overcoming today’s challenges will require the same dedication and sense of urgency that enabled past generations of African Americans to rise above the injustices of their time. That is why my Administration is laying a new foundation for long-term economic growth that helps more than just a privileged few. We are working hard to give small businesses much-needed credit, to slash tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas, and to give those same breaks to companies that create jobs here at home. We are also reinvesting in our schools and making college more affordable, because a world class education is our country’s best roadmap to prosperity.
    These initiatives will expand opportunities for African Americans, and for all Americans, but parents and community leaders must also be partners in this effort. We must push our children to reach for the full measure of their potential, just as the innovators who succeeded in previous generations pushed their children to achieve something greater. In the volumes of black history, much remains unwritten. Let us add our own chapter, full of progress and ambition, so that our children’s children will know that we, too, did our part to erase an unjust past and build a brighter future.
    NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim February 2010 as National African American History Month. I call upon public officials, educators, librarians, and all the people of the United States to observe this month with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.
    IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this first day of February, in the year of our Lord two thousand ten, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fourth.
    BARACK OBAMA — WH, 2-1-11
  • Presidential Proclamation–National African American History Month: The great abolitionist and orator Frederick Douglass once told us, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” Progress in America has not come easily, but has resulted from the collective efforts of generations. For centuries, African American men and women have persevered to enrich our national life and bend the arc of history toward justice. From resolute Revolutionary War soldiers fighting for liberty to the hardworking students of today reaching for horizons their ancestors could only have imagined, African Americans have strengthened our Nation by leading reforms, overcoming obstacles, and breaking down barriers. During National African American History Month, we celebrate the vast contributions of African Americans to our Nation’s history and identity.
    This year’s theme, “African Americans and the Civil War,” invites us to reflect on 150 years since the start of the Civil War and on the patriots of a young country who fought for the promises of justice and equality laid out by our forbearers. In the Emancipation Proclamation, President Abraham Lincoln not only extended freedom to those still enslaved within rebellious areas, he also opened the door for African Americans to join the Union effort.
    Tens of thousands of African Americans enlisted in the United States Army and Navy, making extraordinary sacrifices to help unite a fractured country and free millions from slavery. These gallant soldiers, like those in the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, served with distinction, braving both intolerance and the perils of war to inspire a Nation and expand the domain of freedom. Beyond the battlefield, black men and women also supported the war effort by serving as surgeons, nurses, chaplains, spies, and in other essential roles. These brave Americans gave their energy, their spirit, and sometimes their lives for the noble cause of liberty.
    Over the course of the next century, the United States struggled to deliver fundamental civil and human rights to African Americans, but African Americans would not let their dreams be denied. Though Jim Crow segregation slowed the onward march of history and expansion of the American dream, African Americans braved bigotry and violence to organize schools, churches, and neighborhood organizations. Bolstered by strong values of faith and community, black men and women have launched businesses, fueled scientific advances, served our Nation in the Armed Forces, sought public office, taught our children, and created groundbreaking works of art and entertainment. To perfect our Union and provide a better life for their children, tenacious civil rights pioneers have long demanded that America live up to its founding principles, and their efforts continue to inspire us.
    Though we inherit the extraordinary progress won by the tears and toil of our predecessors, we know barriers still remain on the road to equal opportunity. Knowledge is our strongest tool against injustice, and it is our responsibility to empower every child in America with a world-class education from cradle to career. We must continue to build on our Nation’s foundation of freedom and ensure equal opportunity, economic security, and civil rights for all Americans. After a historic recession has devastated many American families, and particularly African Americans, we must continue to create jobs, support our middle class, and strengthen pathways for families to climb out of poverty.
    During National African American History Month, we recognize the extraordinary achievements of African Americans and their essential role in shaping the story of America. In honor of their courage and contributions, let us resolve to carry forward together the promise of America for our children.
    NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim February 2011 as National African American History Month. I call upon public officials, educators, librarians, and all the people of the United States to observe this month with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.
    IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this first day of February, in the year of our Lord two thousand eleven, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fifth.
    BARACK OBAMA — WH, 2-1-11
  • Biden, guests honor Black History Month: Progress has been made in civil rights, but the United States still has more to do, Vice President Joe Biden said during a celebration of Black History Month.
    Biden offered tribute to the more than 120 black elected officials and guests at the U.S. Naval Observatory Tuesday, saying, “The best way to celebrate history is to make it.”
    On the day that civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., received the Medal of Freedom, Biden spoke of the “halting” but ongoing fight for equality in the United States.
    “Sometimes the people most burdened in life have to add more burdens upon themselves so that others can have their burdens lifted from them,” the vice president said.
    He recalled two times when he stood on a train platform in Wilmington, Del. Once was in 1968 when he and Wilmington Mayor James Baker, an attendee, saw the city devastated by rioting following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Forty years later, Biden said, he stood on the same platform waiting to board a train that carried newly elected President Barack Obama, the first black commander in chief of the United States.
    Waiting for the train and recalling the riots, Biden said he remembered thinking, “We may have a lot more to do, but damn, we’ve come a long way.” – UPI, 2-16-11
  • Remarks by the President at “In Performance At The White House: The Motown Sound”: No one knows exactly when jazz began. Nobody knows who the first person was to sing a freedom song. But we know where Motown came from. We know it was born in the basement of a house on West Grand Boulevard in the Motor City — Detroit. (Applause.) And we know it started with a man named Berry Gordy, who is here with us tonight. Stand up, Berry. (Applause.)? ?
    Now, apparently Berry tried a lot of things before following his heart into music. A high school dropout, he failed as a record store owner, competed as an amateur boxer, finally took a job earning $85 a week on the assembly line at the local Lincoln-Mercury plant. And it was there, watching the bare metal frames transformed into gleaming automobiles, that Berry wondered why he couldn’t do the same thing with musicians, and help turn new talent into stars.? ?
    And before long, he quit his job at the plant, borrowed $800, and set up shop in a little house with a banner across the front that read “Hitsville, U.S.A.” His family thought he was delusional. (Laughter.) But as Berry said, “People thought the Wright Brothers had a stupid idea, so I say, ‘Bring on the stupid ideas.’”? ?
    As it turned out, Berry could recognize talent and potential better than anybody else in the business. It began with Smokey Robinson, who stopped by the Motown house with a group of friends calling themselves the Miracles. Then came one of Smokey’s neighbors -– a high school senior named Diana Ross, who started out working as a secretary. One of the Miracles brought along his little brother, who invited a 10-year-old blind kid named Stephen Hardaway Judkins to tag along. (Laughter.) And then there was a group called the Jackson Five, fresh from amateur night at the Apollo, that Gladys Knight told Berry he just had to see.? ?
    Pretty soon, the basement studio was turning out hits faster than Detroit was turning out cars. From 1961 to 1971, Motown produced 110 Top 10 hits from artists like Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, The Four Tops and The Supremes. In the process, Motown’s blend of tight lyrics, catchy melodies and deep soul began to blur the line between music that was considered either “black” or “white.” As Smokey Robinson said, “I recognized the bridges that were crossed, the racial problems and the barriers that we broke down with music. I recognized that because I lived it.”? ?
    Along the way, songs like “Dancing in the Streets” and “What’s Going On” became the soundtrack of the civil rights era. Black artists began soaring to the top of the pop charts for the first time. And at concerts in the South, Motown groups literally brought people together –- insisting that the ropes traditionally used to separate black and white audience members be taken down.? ?
    So, today, more than 50 years later, that’s the Motown legacy. Born at a time of so much struggle, so much strife, it taught us that what unites us will always be stronger than what divides us. And in the decades since, those catchy beats and simple chords have influenced generations of musicians, from Sheryl Crow to the Jonas Brothers. – WH, 2-24-11