Assemblyman Perry: National African American History Month, a Time to Recommit Ourselves to Equal Rights

Each February, we observe National African American History Month, an occasion for remembrance that has been designated by every president since 1976, including President Obama, our first African-American president. National African American History Month reminds us to honor those who fought to make our country more equal and just, and it celebrates the achievements of African-Americans in shaping our history and helping make America the country it is today.

Among those honored during this time of year are names we all know well, like Sojourner Truth, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. They are individuals who have provided extraordinary examples of bravery, selflessness and commitment to justice that defied the inequalities of their time and overcame stifling adversity. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s example of nonviolent protest in the face of brutality helped challenge our national consciousness and continues to inspire us to this day.

There are many other individuals we honor during National African American History Month, such as the New York State Assembly’s very own Shirley Chisholm. A member of the Assembly from 1964 to 1968, Chisholm became the first African-American woman elected to the U.S. Congress and, in 1972, the first woman and first African-American candidate for the presidency of the United States. During her presidential campaign, she survived three separate assassination attempts, and although she eventually lost the nomination, she said she ran for office “in spite of hopeless odds...to demonstrate the sheer will and refusal to accept the status quo.”

Through the contributions of individuals like Shirley Chisholm and many others, New York State has been a part of the fight for equality. Harriet Tubman made New York a major stop on the Underground Railroad for over a decade, eventually settling in Auburn, N.Y., in 1857.1 The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Urban League made their headquarters in New York State for many years, and the Universal Negro Improvement Association was founded in our state as well.

While we honor the contributions and milestones along the path to equality, National African American History Month is the opportunity to recommit ourselves to some of the basic principles that defined the Civil Rights era: equality and justice for all, as well as fairness in education, employment and health care, and equal opportunity to succeed for all those who aspire to reach the American Dream. This National African American History Month, I hope you’ll join me in renewing this commitment and doing everything within our power to make it a reality.

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1 math.buffalo.edu/~sww/0history/hwny-tubman.html