Fort McCoy hosted its Black History Month observance Feb. 25 at McCoy’s Community Center and online through the Fort McCoy official Facebook page.
The theme of the 2021 event was “The Black Family,” and the guest speaker Maj. Eddie Woody, commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, U.S. Army Garrison Fort McCoy.
Woody began his presentation by sharing information about his family and later concluded his introduction about family with the Maya Angelou quote, “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”
Woody also talked about two historical figures he admires — Booker T. Washington and Thurgood Marshall. Washington was and is sometimes criticized because he valued economic self-determination over political and civil rights. Washington said black people should pursue the right to educate themselves so they could first support themselves and then pursue economic growth and power before pursuing political power and civil rights.
“When he said that he was more concerned with self-determination, he was saying that he didn’t mind segregation as long as the men and women of his community had access ... to education and were treated fairly,” Woody said.
One of Washington’s major accomplishments was helping found the Tuskegee Institute, a forerunner of the modern Tuskegee University, a historically black university. It provided both academic and vocational training. According to www.tuskegee.edu, the institute started as “30 adult students in a one-room shanty. ... At the time of Washington’s death, there were 1,500 students, a $2 million endowment, 40 trades, ... 100 fully-equipped buildings, and about 200 faculty (members).”
The educational institution was Washington’s way of spreading his principles of economic self-determination, Woody said.
Marshall was the first African-American justice to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. Prior to serving on the court, he was a lawyer and civil-rights activist. He and his mentor successfully sued the University of Maryland, which had rejected his application to law school, for discriminatory practices shortly after graduating from Howard University School of Law. He also argued Brown vs. the Board of Education, which decided that racial segregation in public education was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause.
Woody shared one of his favorite quotes from Marshall: “Where you see wrong or inequality or injustice, speak out, because this is your country. This is your democracy. Make it, protect it, pass it on.”
Woody also spoke about notable figures, including some he’d met in the Army through the World Class Athlete Program, in one of his favorite pastimes — wrestling. Some of these were Lee Kemp, a three-time world champion; Capt. Tina George, who won gold at the 2003 Pan American Games and later served in Iraq; and Dremiel Byers, the 2002 world champion in Greco-Roman wrestling.
“Every person highlighted today has achieved greatness, but they didn’t do it alone,” Woody said. “Leaders, please remember that diversity plus tolerance and acknowledgement equals inclusion. Make inclusion your goal at home, at work, and in your communities.”
African-American/Black History Month is an annual celebration which recognizes the significant contributions of African-Americans throughout our nation’s history, through their contributions in arts, entertainment, law, politics, sciences, sports and so much more, according to the Department of Defense Education Activity at www.dodea.edu/dodeaCelebrates/African-American-History.cfm.
The history of African-American/Black History Month traces back to 1915, when the “Father of Black History Month,” Dr. Carter G. Woodson, founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, which is currently known as the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History (ASALH), the website states. Through their diligence and commitment to African-American citizens, Woodson and the ASALH introduced the first Negro History Week in February 1926. In 1976, President Gerald Ford issued the first African-American History Month proclamation, calling upon the Americans to celebrate this observance each February. Since that time, U.S. presidents have issued proclamations to pay tribute to African Americans.