IT DOESN’T matter. That’s the enduring message that has emanated from the pages of the AT&T African American History Calendar for 25 years now.
It doesn’t matter what side of the tracks your family lives on. It doesn’t matter that the odds are against you. It doesn’t matter that you are growing up in a single-parent home. It doesn’t matter that your family is poor.
Why? Take a look at any of the past 24 issues of the African American History Calendar, and you’ll find one black history maker after another who overcame seemingly insurmountable odds to reach great heights and make selfless contributions. They were former slaves and sons and daughters of slaves. But it didn’t matter. They were told that their dreams would never materialize. But it didn’t matter. They faced glass ceilings, locked doors and unjust laws. But it didn’t matter.
They didn’t allow present circumstances — no matter how dire — to dictate their future.
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Despite being confronted with the challenges and treachery of slavery, black codes, discrimination, segregation and poverty, many black Americans have given their soul, wisdom, blood, sweat and tears not only to improve their own lives but to help make this state and nation great. They’ve contributed through politics, entrepreneurship, entertainment and sports. They’ve contributed their social and moral influence, as evidenced by the civil rights movement.
But for so long, many of these contributions and accomplishments were given short shrift or ignored altogether.
In South Carolina, thousands of students graduated from the state’s public schools decade after decade without the full knowledge of or appreciation for the plight, fight and accomplishments of African-American history makers. Not only were they getting an incomplete picture of history, but they were being robbed of compelling life stories. Stories that could give them hope and confidence that they too could be successful, no matter what life might throw at them. That was particularly true for African-American children who saw — and still see — far too few history makers who look like them in their textbooks.
Fortunately, AT&T realized the deficiency and established the African American History Calendar to record overlooked and forgotten history and also to inspire, encourage and provoke students and youth to dream big and strive to succeed, no matter how difficult or unfair life might seem.
It’s a lesson that not only black families and youngsters but all of us need to embrace today.
Since its inception, the calendar has recognized 297 black history makers with South Carolina roots. I’m proud, but most of all humbled, to have been a 2010 honoree.
The list includes civil rights and human rights activists, preachers and teachers, doctors and lawyers, politicians and community organizers, entertainers and sports icons. Their life stories are case studies in the amazing strength, fortitude and will of African-Americans.
In this, the calendar’s 25th year, AT&T has decided to deviate from its practice of recognizing trailblazers to instead highlight important events in history. The 2014 calendar, which will be unveiled publicly on Wednesday, includes historic events such as the Orangeburg Massacre, the desegregation of Clemson University and the University of South Carolina and the Charleston Hospital Strike.
Over the years, the calendar has recognized some amazing people who fought gallantly to ensure justice and equality for all. The list includes the likes of:
• Mary McLeod Bethune, who moved to Daytona Beach, Fla., in 1904 to establish a school for black children. With $1.50, five girls and her son, she formed the Daytona Educational and Industrial School for Girls. In 1926, it merged with Cookman Institute, creating what is now Bethune-Cookman College.
Modjeska Simkins, a teacher, banker and staunch civil rights advocate, who helped organize the newly formed NAACP conference of branches in South Carolina during the 1940s. As NAACP secretary for 15 years, she helped increase the number of branches from 10 to 110.
• Sarah Mae Flemming, a black maid, who took a front seat on the segregated city bus on June 22, 1954. A white Columbia bus driver accused her of sitting in the “whites-only” section. She would file a lawsuit that led the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to strike down segregation on city buses.
• Jonathan Jasper Wright, who was the first African-American licensed to practice law in South Carolina. In 1870, he was elected to the S.C. Supreme Court, becoming the first African-American elected to any appeals court in the nation.
• Matthew J. Perry Jr., who overcame many hardships to excel as a civil rights lawyer and ultimately receive an appointment as a U.S. District judge. His legal work helped achieve many successes for African-Americans, integrating beaches, parks, restaurants and public schools.
The calendar also incudes contemporary African-Americans who continue to make meaningful contributions, giving youngsters an opportunity to be encouraged by history makers they can watch in action.
Some of the honorees still working in the vineyard are:
• Ernest A. Finney Jr., who distinguished himself as a defense and civil rights lawyer. In 1985, he was elected to the S.C. Supreme Court, and in 1994 he became South Carolina’s first black chief justice. He is now retired.
• Harry Carson, a Black College All-American at S.C. State University, whose stellar 13 years with the New York Giants helped land him in the NFL Hall of Fame in 2006.
• U.S. Rep. James E. Clyburn, who was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1992, becoming the first African-American to serve in Congress from South Carolina since Reconstruction. In 2007, Congressman Clyburn’s Democratic peers elected him majority whip, the third-ranking leadership position in the House, and the highest rank ever attained by an African-American in Congress.
• Fannie Phelps Adams, an educator who served 40-plus years as a teacher, guidance counselor and administrator in Richland District 1 schools. Her retirement in 1979 was hardly a sign that she was slowing down. She has spent the years since as an activist and humanitarian, helping and inspiring many.
Thanks to AT&T and its partners, including The State Media Co., these moments live on.
History calendar celebration
AT&T will unveil its 2014 African American History Calendar during a 7 p.m. celebration %Wednesday at the Koger Center for the Arts. This year’s calendar will recognize %important events in history. Get an early look at scafricanamerican.com.
Reach Mr. Bolton at (803) 771-8631 or firstname.lastname@example.org.