FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Just as their ancestors fought against the shackles of slavery, today's black leaders must continue the fight to empower black men and women so future generations may live completely free.

That was the message from the guest speaker at Fort Jackson's Black History Month luncheon Feb. 17 at the Solomon Center.

James McLawhorn Jr., president and CEO of the Columbia Urban League, spoke to more than 500 Soldiers and civilians of the Fort Jackson community about the importance of striving for success while never forgetting the struggles of the past.

This year's celebration was also dedicated to honoring the centennial of the National Urban League by exploring racial uplift and black economic development in the 20th century, said Capt. Neysa Burkes, adjutant for the 165th Infantry Brigade, which hosted the event.

Before introducing McLawhorn, Burkes described how the need for economic development has always been a central element of black life.

"After centuries of unrequited toil as slaves, African Americans gained their freedom and found themselves in the struggle to make a living," Burkes said. "The chains were gone, but racism was everywhere. Against all odds, African Americans became landowners, skilled workers, small businessmen and women, professionals and ministers."

And they became Soldiers, McLawhorn said, as he lauded the military for being "a partner in desegregation" and "a proponent of equal opportunity."

"The military opened up numerous opportunities for African Americans," he said. "It enabled (black Americans) to build a family; it enabled them to see economic growth."

McLawhorn, whose father was a combat disabled veteran of World War II, said his college education was fully funded by military scholarships. He said he credits the military for transforming his own life.

"Quite often we don't realize what the military has done to provide a bridge for economic development for African American people," he said.

Following McLawhorn's keynote address, the audience was entertained by a dramatic skit depicting the accomplishments of black entrepreneurs such as Madam C.J. Walker, and a performance by Fort Jackson's Nikay Step Team. The luncheon also featured music by the children of the Lemira Percussion Ensemble of Sumter.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16