ATLANTA - The Fort McPherson and Fort Gillem community gathered at The Commons on Fort McPherson to celebrate African-American History Month and the impact that black culture has had in the United States.

Like much of the news today, the focus of the Feb. 5 luncheon - entitled The History of Black Economic Empowerment - was on the economy, specifically on how blacks have helped grow and strengthen the American economy.

These contributions were obvious upon entering the club, where attendees viewed displays on the contributions of black entrepreneurs to American society, such as Famous Amos cookies (created by Wally Amos) and various peanut products by George Washington Carver.

Once seated, attendees learned more about various black individuals who played a major role in America's prosperity, as each table was dedicated to an individual.

They were also introduced to some of the history of how African-American History Month came to exist, courtesy of the master of ceremonies, Sgt. 1st Class Jamaine Chambers.

"Initially, Black History Month was referred to as Negro History Week in 1926 by Dr. Carter Woodson (and) celebrated the second week of February in honor of the birthdays of former president Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglas," said Chambers, central tasking NCO, headquarters, First Army.

"During our nation's bicentennial, in 1976," he added, "it was expanded to a full month by the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History."

Chambers also spoke of Lt. Col. Allen Allensworth, a notable black man with military ties who helped add to black economic power.

Allensworth, born in slavery, educated himself illegally and later joined the Army, where he became the first black chaplain, Chambers said.

After retiring in 1906 as the highest ranking black commissioned officer at the time, he created a self-sufficient, all-black community with the establishment of Allensworth, Calif., in 1908.

It consisted of 900 acres worth more than $112,000 and was the only California community to be founded, financed and governed by blacks. Just as Allensworth's dreams were helped to be realized by his time in the Army, the luncheon's guest speaker, Gregory Price, chairman of the economics department at Morehouse College, used his speech to highlight how the U.S. armed forces has been a model for and cause of black empowerment in the U.S.

"While the path to black progress and empowerment has been caused and catalyzed by a wide variety of social, economic, political and moral phenomena, our U.S. armed forces has played a significant role in black freedom and empowerment," he said. "The first and most prominent instance of our armed forces empowering black Americans was the Civil War."

Even before the Union Army emerged victorious and freed the slaves, the U.S. armed forces were working to help empower blacks.

Price spoke of how Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman issued field order 15, which confiscated 400,000 acres of land and divided it into 40-acre parcels for freed slaves during reconstruction efforts in the South.

Reconstruction was another major role in which the U.S. armed forces helped empower the newly freed black Americans, said Price. By enforcing reconstruction, the nominal freedom won as a result of the war began to become more concrete.

During reconstruction, in 1866 and 1869, the armed forces engineered laws to guarantee existence of four black Regular Army regiments that helped provide legal precedence of the notion of equality of black Americans relative to white Americans, Price said.

The armed forces ended the practice of limited recruitment during the Spanish-American War in 1898, allowing more blacks to serve their country.

Price took more time to show how the armed forces led the way for black empowerment and equality.

He spoke of how, in 1948, President Harry Truman's executive order 9981 ordered the integration of the armed forces, preceding any civilian equivalent by at least 17 years. On three different instances, Price spoke of how the Army helped enforce laws to ensure equality.

On Sept. 24, 1957, President Dwight Eisenhower ordered the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock, Ark., to enforce the rights of blacks to attend the previously all-white Little Rock Central High School.

In September 1962, President John F. Kennedy federalized the Mississippi National Guard and dispatched it to enforce the right of James Meredith, a black man, to attend the previously all-white University of Mississippi.

On June 11, 1963, Kennedy also federalized the Alabama National Guard and dispatched it to enforce the rights of Vivian Malone and James Hood to attend the previously all-white University of Alabama.

"There is evidence that the U.S. armed forces continues to be a model for and cause of black empowerment in recent and contemporary times," Price said. "One only need itemize the number of black Americans who have held the rank of general and or admiral in the U.S. armed forces, and compare that to the number of private corporations that have had black Americans as chief executive officer, or near CEO in rank as leaders."