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Celebrating African American/Black History Month

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- Have you ever wondered why Black History Month is celebrated in February or what started it all? Referred to as "The father of Black History," Carter G. Woodson paved the way and laid the foundation for what is now called African American/Black History Month. It began in 1926 as "Negro History Week," a one-week celebration to promote the value of the African Americans in history. In 1976 that President Ford issued the First Presidential Proclamation for the observance. The Presidential Proclamation gave way to February being a month-long celebration. February was chosen because it coincided with the birthdays of Fredrick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln. February is also the anniversary for the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

This year's theme is "African Americans and the Civil War." Looking back through the decades one may recollect the history of African Americans as one marred by slavery and injustice. In an attempt to restore equality and justice, African Americans were urged to enlist and fight for their freedom, Frederick Douglass said:

"Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters, U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pockets, and there is no power on earth which can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship in the United States."

Once African Americans were allowed to join the military, approximately 180,000 served in the Union Army during the Civil War. In addition to19, 000 that served in the Union Navy. Free African Americans and runaway slaves alike joined the Civil War fight. While serving as soldiers, spies, nurses, and recruiters they endured many forms of unequal treatment. Despite those barriers, the courage and commitment African Americans showed helped them endure the conduct in pursuit of freedom and equality. Over the course of the war nearly 40,000 African American soldiers lost their lives. However the significant contributions made by African Americans influenced the outcome of the war.

The end of the war marked the beginning of the reconstruction that made the United States of America a land where people of all races, ethnicities, colors, and orientations can coexist together. Looking around our country today, the positive impact of African Americans can be seen in societal development, politics, and the economic structure. By taking an active role in society African Americans continue to epitomize the valor displayed during the Civil War.