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At the crossroads of freedom and equality

As you probably know, February is African American History Month. It's a time to learn about African American history, achievements, notable figures, cultural influences, and to pay respects to those who fought so hard and so long amidst centuries of political and social turmoil surrounding racial equality in the US. This year marks two particularly meaningful and poignant acts in history that informed and ultimately strengthened the fabric of America and the freedoms for which it - and we, as citizens - stand. It has been one and a half centuries since the Emancipation Proclamation was ratified by Congress and signed by then President, Abraham Lincoln. This executive act, which proclaimed that all those who were enslaved in Confederate territory to be forever free, granted freedom to nearly 75% of those enslaved - ultimately leading to the addition of the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution a little less than three years later.

And so, a little over 100 years later (and 50 years ago), the second momentous act took place: The Great March on Washington. This stirring occasion is estimated to have gathered between 200,000 and 300,000 participants of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. Culminating in Martin Luther King, Jr.'s ever famous "I Have a Dream" speech, the rally is credited with making an indelible statement in American social justice and helping to pass both the Civil Rights Act in 1964 as well as the Voting Rights Act a year later.

While our national history is marked numerous times with similar phases of injustice, turbulence, solidarity, advocacy and reform, it should be noted that some of the best ways to continue to inform oneself about our national social development actually occurs at the local level.

For me, as a resident of New York's Harlem neighborhood and having a background in the visual arts, African American History Month has sparked a flurry of interest in me surrounding the period widely known as the Harlem Renaissance. Spanning the better part of the 1920's, this period burgeoned with African American literary and artistic accomplishment, increased educational opportunity and growth of the African American middle class. The Harlem neighborhood became a point of convergence for African Americans of varied backgrounds: from the Great Migration out of the South, to western Africa, to origins in the Caribbean region. As much of New York City does, it continually amazes me to walk among the same streets and neighborhoods where key figures of our intellectual, social and economic past (African American and otherwise) set foot each and every day. They created history and we are too.

So, as you continue to celebrate African American Month, what noteworthy history took place in your neighborhood that changed the course of time?

Image courtesy of ehpien and Flickr

 

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