WASHINGTON–The annual designation of February as Black History Month has been a U.S. tradition for 40 years. Every President since 1976 has issued a proclamation naming this month a special time for honoring the countless contributions that African Americans have made to our nation since its founding.
In the U.S. Senate, I am a cosponsor of the resolution introduced by Sens. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) celebrating Black History Month. The bipartisan resolution reiterates the importance of this month as an “opportunity to reflect on the complex history of the United States, while remaining hopeful and confident about the path ahead.” Notable Mississippians, such as Blanche Bruce, Holt Collier, Medgar Evers, B.B. King, Walter Payton, Hiram Revels, and Aaron Shirley, are among the pioneers, leaders, and luminaries named in the resolution. We continue to learn from their example, especially their perseverance against discrimination and the difference they made in our state and nation.
Preserving the Home of Medgar Evers
One way to honor the contributions of our African American leaders is through the preservation of important landmarks and historic markers. In particular, I am hopeful that the Medgar Wiley and Myrlie Evers House in Jackson will be recognized as a National Historic Landmark. The National Park Service announced earlier this month that the home is under official review. Sen. Cochran and I introduced legislation last year authorizing the agency to study the national significance of the Evers home. Such a designation would help ensure that future generations have the opportunity to realize the magnitude of Evers’s legacy as a champion for freedom and equality.
Paying Tribute to Selma’s ‘Foot Soldiers’
Last year, Congress recognized courageous African Americans of the civil rights movement by awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the brave “Foot Soldiers” who marched from Selma to Montgomery championing the right to vote. The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian award given by Congress. I joined 73 other Senators in cosponsoring legislation to bestow this honor on these deserving individuals. President Obama signed the legislation into law on March 7, 2015 – exactly five decades after Bloody Sunday, when hundreds of civil rights marchers were attacked on Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge.
National African American Museum to Open in the Fall
Later this year, the Smithsonian Institution will add to the commemoration of African American history with a new museum on the National Mall in Washington. The National Museum of African American History and Culture is scheduled to open in September, offering a unique space to showcase the diversity of our heritage and the greatness of the American story.
In addition to this national recognition, we see African American history being celebrated and remembered locally across the country. Mississippi, for example, will be home to the first state-sponsored civil rights museum in the country, which is set to open next year in Jackson.
Much has changed since the observance of the first Black History Month, and there is still much to learn about the progress we have made as a nation. Recognizing the numerous ways that African Americans have shaped U.S. history as well as the impact of race and reconciliation on the lives of millions of Americans should extend beyond the month of February.