A panel consisting of respected African-American leaders shared the sentiment that while the past must be acknowledged and remembered, it’s the future which deserves priority and our greater attention.
Virginia state Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D), National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial, American Medical Association President Patrice Harris, NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson and NNPA columnist and economist Dr. Julianne Malveaux served as the speakers for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s “National Town Hall: 400 Years: Our Legacy, Our Possibilities” on Sept. 12.
The event took place at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Northwest. Dr. Jonetta Cole, chair and president of the National Council of Negro Women, moderated the panel and said recognizing the 400-year presence of Blacks in America bears profound significance.
“Dates do matter,” Cole said. “People also matter. Our people have endured enslavement, have been lynched and endured mass incarceration. “It is important to understand that we are descendants of people who resisted slavery and descendants of people who made a way out of no way. We need to look back at that legacy and look forward to our future.”
McClellan pointed to her Commonwealth as the place where the first Africans landed in the English settlement of Jamestown in 1619. She said what happened there centuries ago still impacts today’s racial and gender-based interactions.
“Jamestown set up the power structure that exists today,” she said. “The Africans came to Jamestown to serve English white men. The English women came to Jamestown to serve the English white men. That dynamic is still in play today.”
Johnson, recounting history, noted that Blacks played pivotal roles in the country’s earliest development, including Crispus Attucks, an African American who became the first to die for America’s independence, and thousands of Blacks killed during the Civil War whose sacrifices helped the Union Army emerge victorious.
“Lincoln didn’t free the slaves,” Johnson said. “The slaves saved the Union.”
Malveaux pointed to the use of slaves as collateral for slave owners in their accumulation of wealth.
“The U.S. wouldn’t have been anything without the work of enslaved people,” she said. “Meanwhile, the legacy of slavery still persists – for every dollar a Black person earns a white person gets $13.”
“In 1910, every dollar a Black received equated to $16 for whites,” she said. “In 1910, there were 110 Black banks. Today there are only 23. That is the legacy of slavery.”
Morial spoke about the present saying the greatest challenges for Blacks remains the vicious assault on civil rights.
“There is an attempt to roll back civil rights gains and an effort to suppress votes,” he said. “[Whites] are using diabolical strategies to stop us from voting. They are changing polling places and instituting voter ID laws with the support of state legislatures across the nation.”
He added that too many citizens report to be represented by politicians who, in truth, do not have their best interests in mind.
“Politics is not about romance,” Morial, a former Louisiana state senator and mayor of New Orleans, said. “You don’t have to be in love with a candidate. What we are interested in is what will this person do for our community.”
While other panelists talked about politics, Harris focused on health. Harris, the first Black women to lead the American Medical Association, said, “Black people are dying.”
“There is an increase in Black suicides in recent decades and there seems to be more trauma in the Black community,” she said, pointing to recent data which shows how racism, daily encountered, has led to a negative impact on the health of Blacks.
“The daily assault of racism affects our brains, organs and mental health,” she said. “This is why it is important for our policymakers to look into this because health affects one’s economic status and the development of one’s community.”