■ Melissa Diaz Hernandez / Editor
Last week, The Valley Chronicle decided to kick off Black History Month by honoring the Congressional Black Caucus, the late-great Hugh Masekela and Dr. Mae Jemison. This week, we continue our celebration by honoring President Barack Obama, Ruby Bridges and Rosa Parks.
President Barack Obama
On Nov. 4, 2008, the country elected the first black president to serve as its 44th commander in chief. Coming off of serving less than five years in the U.S.Senate, Obama ran a campaign centered around hope and change.
“You were the change,” said Obama on obamawhitehouse.archives.gov. “You answered people’s hopes, and because of you, by almost every measure, America is a better, stronger place than it was when we started.”
“With a father from Kenya and a mother from Kansas, President Obama was born in Hawaii on Aug. 4, 1961,” the website continues. “He was raised with help from his grandfather, who served in Patton’s army, and his grandmother, who worked her way up from the secretarial pool to middle management at a bank.”
After graduating from high school in Hawaii, he went to college at Occidental and later Columbia before entering Harvard Law School. He became the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review. Obama worked his way through college with the help of scholarships and student loans. After graduation, Obama moved to Chicago, where he worked with a group of churches as a community organizer to help rebuild communities devastated by the closure of local steel plants, according to the website. He also taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago.
Obama served seven years in the Illinois State Senate before being elected to the U.S. Senate in November 2004.
When the NAACP contacted the parents of six-year-old Ruby Bridges in 1960 about attending a newly desegregated school in Louisiana, her father was understandably apprehensive. Bridges, the oldest of five children, had passed an exam that qualified her and five other children to attend the former all-white school. Bridges’ mother wanted her to have the educational opportunities that they did not have.
Womenshistory.org says that Bridges and her mother were escorted daily to the school by four federal marshals for that entire first year during which Bridges never missed a day of school.
Bridges started The Ruby Bridges Foundation in 1999 using education to encourage tolerance and change.
Bridges had stated during a swearing-in ceremony as an honorary deputy marshal in 2000 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D. C. by then-Attorney General Eric Holder that her parents were the true heroes by sending her to the school. She said that her parents felt it was the right thing to do.
Rosa Parks is the woman who notoriously swung the civil rights movement into full swing in 1955 by refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Ala..
The 42-year old seamstress was taken into custody for her action.
History.com retells the story: “Nonetheless, at one point on the route, a white man had no seat because all the seats in the designated ‘white’ section were taken. So the driver told the riders in the four seats of the first row of the ‘colored’ section to stand, in effect adding another row to the ‘white’ section. The three others obeyed. Parks did not. ‘People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired,” wrote Parks in her autobiography, ‘but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically… No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.’”
Twelve years prior to her heroic stance in 1943, Parks joined her husband as a member of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP. The website says of Parks, “Over the next half-century, Parks became a nationally recognized symbol of dignity and strength in the struggle to end entrenched racial segregation.”
Next week, we will select several more inspirational figures as we continue our celebration of Black History Month.