Black Experience

Black History Month Celebration Kicks Off at Civil War Museum

The ceremonial start of Black History Month provided local organizers, mavens of industry, politicians and others the opportunity to celebrate four prominent D.C.-area figures, as well as remind participants of the work left to do in preserving the protections that define American citizenship for Black people.

While much of the focus centered on voting rights, Black History Community Award honoree Rev. Dr. Sandra Butler-Truesdale spoke about what she described as the District’s health care crisis, by which she has been affected.

Moments after basking in her accolades, Butler-Truesdale made known her intentions to tackle this issue with the help of fellow award recipient Ambrose Lane Jr. of D.C.’s Health Alliance Network.

“I [recently] sat in the GW emergency room for 28 hours. One of my musicians sat in the emergency room for three days,” Truesdale, principal/curator of the Emma Mae Gallery, told audience members at the African-American Civil War Museum in Northwest on Saturday afternoon. “I’m working [with Lane and Joni Eisenberg] to make some changes. The fight has just begun.

“I’m here to fight and [African-American Civil War Museum founding Director] Frank Smith knows when I start fighting, we just want to get the battle going,” said Butler-Truesdale, also a founder of DC Legendary Musicians Inc.

The citywide Black History Celebration Kickoff, sponsored by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and the DC Black History Celebration Committee, counts as the first of several educational and cultural events scheduled to take place in the District throughout the month.

As detailed in a widely circulated booklet, festivities will wrap up Feb. 29 with a tribute to Black Broadway on U Street, scheduled to take place at the Lincoln Theatre.

On Feb. 1, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) spoke about an upcoming markup of D.C. statehood legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Ashley Emerson, executive director of the Mayor’s Office on African American Affairs, read aloud a proclamation issued by Mayor Muriel Bowser (D).

Along with Butler-Truesdale and Lane, Jeffrey A. Banks, vice president for commercial services for United Bank, and Humanities DC Executive Director Joy Ford Austin also received the Black History Community Award for their work in the banking and arts sectors, respectively.

They, too, didn’t shy away from highlighting policy related to their industries. Banks in particular stressed that Black-owned businesses had resources within the District government to increase their capacity to hire returning citizens and other marginalized groups within the Black community.

Earlier in the program, Frank Smith revealed major construction on the grounds of the African American Civil War Museum, scheduled for completion before the 2021 Black History Month celebration.

By that time, a newly erected statue of President Abraham Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation would face the African American Civil War Memorial, located across the street from the museum. Anticipated exhibits include one highlighting former first lady Michelle Obama’s lineage from enslavement to the White House, and the voting rights legacy of Black soldiers who fought in the Civil War.

In his keynote address, historian C.R. Gibbs framed the Black freedom struggle internationally, showing the audience at the African-American Civil War Museum that much of what Black people in the United States created and fought for, they brought from the motherland.

“It’s important to understand that there are African [survivors] in American culture,” Gibbs said Saturday shortly before imploring young people to read. “Where we had the chance and made the space, we brought our traditions and cultures here. In New England, that even meant [electing] our own chiefs and governors. Our familiarity with the vote is not an American concoction, but known to some societies in Africa.”

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