Black history is America’s history
© Greg Nash

Carter G. Woodson, the father of Negro Week, later named Black History Month, once said, “When you control a man's thinking, you do not have to worry about his actions.”  When he envisioned designating several days to celebrate African-American people and culture, Dr. Woodson understood that slavery must not be the only narrative for African Americans. 

Our history deserves recognition every day because Black History is America’s history.  Dr. Woodson recognized that generations of African Americans have strengthened our country by urging reforms and breaking down barriers. We see the greatness of America in those who have risen above injustice and enriched our society, a greatness reflected in the perseverance of Jackie Robinson, the intellect of W.E.B. DuBois, and the talent of Louis Armstrong.  We also gain a deeper appreciation for African American history in the writings of James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, and Zora Neal Hurston, or in the music of Mahalia Jackson, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington and countless others.

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African Americans share a proud legacy of courage, dedication and innovative vision that has significantly contributed to our nation's success and prosperity. Leaders like Frederick Douglass, Thurgood Marshall, and Martin Luther King, Jr., possessed a clarity of purpose and were instrumental in exposing and addressing issues that threatened American’s founding principles.  The battle for freedom, equality, and opportunity was fought on the front lines by strong figures such as Sojourner Truth and Fannie Lou Hamer, and everyday heroes and she-roes who helped to lead this nation to a more hopeful and just society while striving to attain a more perfect union. 

Black History Month also reminds us that although we have progressed, we still have a long way to go.  The lines between our past and our present are blurring. One hundred years after the Chicago Race Riots, we still see racial polarization.  Sixty-five years after Brown v. Board of Education, every child is still not guaranteed equitable access to a quality education and safe learning environment.  It is unconscionable that almost 54 years after the Voting Rights Act became law, we still need federal protections to exercise our right to vote. Instead of the poll taxes and literacy tests of the 1950s and 60s, lawmakers have found other ways to limit minority voter access around the country through restrictive voter ID laws, closed polling places, reductions to early voting hours and the purging of voters from the rolls.

This month, I chaired a listening session held by the House Administration Committee in Brownsville, Texas and an official Elections Subcommittee field hearing in Atlanta, Ga. Panels comprised of voters and experts, including litigators and advocates for voting rights confirmed what we already know – “the more things change, the more things stay the same.”  The progress made since the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is stained by present-day suppression tactics meant to turn back the clock to the days of Jim Crow and overt disenfranchisement. 

The listening session showed us why pre-clearance is still needed. Panelists shared how before the Shelby County v. Holder decision attorneys seeking to enforce the VRA had a 95 percent success rate in voting rights cases, which has dropped significantly since 2013. The panel also discussed how three District Courts found voter ID laws in Texas to disproportionately burden voters of color. They also gave examples of obstacles to registration, voter roll purges, cutbacks to early voting hours and strict voter ID requirements, which have intimidated voters. 

During the field hearing in Atlanta, witnesses shared testimony of voter suppression they experienced in 2018.  One of the witnesses discussed how election officials in Randolph County attempted to close seven out of nine polling places in predominately African American communities. Another witness shared how she was purged from voter rolls even though she and her family voted in the last election.  It is disturbing that we must confront issues and overcome similar hurdles as Martin Luther King, Jr., Hosea Williams and John LewisJohn LewisPelosi receives John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award Schumer calls on McConnell to hold vote on Equality Act House approves anti-LGBT discrimination Equality Act MORE did – embodied in the historic crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. The current patterns of intimidation and suppression continue to have a “chilling effect” meant to keep people from exercising their right to vote.   

For this reason, it is imperative that we honor our history beyond Feb. 28. When we share our history, we serve as daily advocates for justice, freedom and equal opportunity. When we remember the shoulders on which we stand, our ability to combat discrimination and oppression becomes second nature. To paraphrase a timeless quote, knowing our history is the best way to ensure we don’t repeat it. I urge all Americans to remember the struggle of our ancestors, the obstacles they overcame and those that remain for us to tackle. 

Fudge represents Ohio’s 11th District.