Fort McCoy celebrated African-American/Black History Month with a history lesson and a musical presentation Feb. 20 at McCoy's Community Center.

The guest speaker was 1st Sgt. Desmond M. Burgess with the Noncomissioned Officer Academy at Fort McCoy, Wis. The event also featured a performance by tenor Elliot Brown of Bloomfield, Conn. Brown is a graduate student at the University of South Carolina pursuing a master of music degree in vocal performance. He has performed both in the United States and internationally, including Italy and Japan.

Brown sang several selections at the event - "The Star-Spangled Banner"; "Lift Every Voice and Sing," which was written as part of a celebration of Abraham Lincoln's birthday and sometimes referred to as the black national anthem; and "Come by Here, Good Lord." He was accompanied on the piano by Clay E. Johnson.

Burgess' talk focused on Booker T. Washington, an educator and African-American leader during the post-Reconstruction era who was born into slavery. Washington thought black Americans should seek economic self-determination before political and civil rights, Burgess said. Washington advised African-Americans to acquiesce to segregation laws and focus on education and gaining economic prosperity.

"In all things purely social, we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress," Washington said in his 1895 speech known as the Atlanta Compromise.

As part of his philosophy, he helped found the Tuskegee Normal School, later known as the Tuskegee Institute and Tuskegee University. He also was a proponent of African-American businesses and helped found the National Negro Business League in 1901.

"Although his racial philosophy did not long survive death, his views on self-reliance have remained one of the most influential movements in African-American thought," Burgess said.

Washington was a controversial figure at times, Burgess said, but his strong will to educate, his passion for righteousness, and his philosophy made him an influential figure in African-American history.

Black History Month was first celebrated during a week in February 1926 that encompassed the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, according to www.africanamericanhistorymonth.gov. The celebration was expanded to a month in 1976. President Gerald R. Ford urged Americans to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history."

Fort McCoy's Black History Month event was organized by the Equal Opportunity office. For more information about related events, call 608-388-6335.