Video: Congresswoman stresses the importance of black history
U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D. Texas, used the words of a traditional hymn to emphasize the importance of repeating the story of slavery.
"This is my story, this is my song," she said while in Columbus early Monday morning. "Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine."
Jackson Lee made her remarks as keynote speaker at the 31st Annual Black History Month Observance Breakfast, which drew about 450 people to the Columbus Convention and Trade Center. She said one of the mistakes African Americans have made over the years is failing to pass on their history to black children, many of whom now struggle with a lack of identity and a sense of purpose.
"I would not admonish, but challenge you, talk about slavery, talk about that period of life that was so condemning, both of this nation, and also the treatment of fellow human beings," she said. "What does slavery do in its memory? What it does is, if we continue to understand it, we are emboldened, we are empowered to speak against divisive voices that we are hearing today."
Jackson Lee said she was told that across the street from the Convention and Trade Center there had been a cotton gin and a mill factory that built the last Confederate ship.
"What a history, and look where we are today," she said. "As I walk through the halls of Congress, I'm reminded of where we were not, in some of those august debates. ...It is important to note that it's just a mere 153 years since many in this place had ancestors that were slaves and some in this place had ancestors that were slave masters."
In addition to hearing from Jackson Lee, the crowd also received greetings from Brian Anderson, president of the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce, Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson and Phenix City Mayor Eddie Lowe.
The crowd also was the first to view a trailer for a remake of the mini-series "Roots," which will air May 30th. The film is being produced by A&E Networks. Kim Gilmore, senior historian for the network, told the group why she believes the project is important.
"So many people don't remember the original Roots and so we wanted to remake this classic for a new generation," she said. "And we also wanted to infuse the story with new scholarship. Since 1977, Roots has opened all of this new exploration of African history and African American history."
Later in the program, the Black History Committee, headed by U.S. Rep. Sanford D. Bishop, Jr., presented several awards.
The Legacy of Leadership Award was presented to City Manager Isaiah Hugley and his wife, State. Rep. Carolyn Hugley. Organizers played a video documenting the couple’s work in the community, which included tributes from Hugley’s mother, Rozell Hugley Wilborn; stepfather, Franklin Wilborn; the couple's son, Isaiah Hugley, Jr., and Hugley’s sister, Muscogee School Board Member Pat Hugley Green.
The video documented the couple’s journey from humble beginnings to their current status as prominent leaders in the community. A native of Crawford, Ala, Isaiah Hugley later moved to Columbus and graduated from Spencer High School. Carolyn Hugley grew up in a farming community in Forrest City, Ark. The two met while both working on master's degrees in public policy and administration at Mississippi State University, and settled in Columbus after completing their studies.
The video emphasized the Hugley's political accomplishments, as well as their work with local civic organizations and as members of Franchise Missionary Baptist Church in Phenix City, Ala. Isaiah Hugley serves on the church's Deacon and Trustee Board, according to the video, and Carolyn Hugley serves as chairperson of the Host and the Hostess Committee.
“State Rep. Carolyn Hugley and Columbus City Manager Isaiah Hugley, truly a power couple, and truly powerful contributors to the lives and wellbeing of folks in Columbus and the Chattahoochee Valley area,” Bishop announced in the video.
Isaiah Hugley thanked his mother, sister, stepfather and family for where he is today, and thanked the committee for what he described as the highest honor he and his wife had ever received.
“As I listened, I thought about how I got to, and we got to, where we are, and truly God has been good,” said the city manager, his voice cracking with emotion. “And I would just say to those coming along, you saw where I came from - Crawford, Ala., came through the public housing. And I remember, even my senior year of high school, I was still going to the store with food stamps.
“And to take someone from down a dirt road with no indoor facilities, through all of the public housing and welfare, riding the city bus and then to allow me to be City Manager of the city where I grew up poor," he said, "it’s nothing but God and I thank y’all.”
Hugley thanked former Mayor Bob Poydasheff for giving him the opportunity to serve.
"The first African American city manager, and I remember when the appointment was coming up," he said. "And quite frankly I don't think Columbus was ready for a black city manager, but Bob Poydasheff was ready. And Bob Poydasheff made the brave, courageous move to bring me forward to appoint me to this position. And, you know, I often think about because of that bold, courageous move from Bob Poydasheff, it cost him his second term as mayor.
"Dr. King often said that the measure of a man is not where he stands in times of comfort and convenience but where he stands in times of conflict and controversy," he said. "Bob Poydasheff took a stand and because of that Columbus is diverse, it's a better community, it has great race relations..."
The Black History Breakfast Committee also recognized three other local residents for their contributions to the community. Sandra Ellison, a retired school teacher and longtime volunteer, received the “Unsung Hero” award. The “Emerging Leader” award was presented to Brandon Hicks and Gwenetta Wright, two entrepreneurs and community activists.
In her remarks, Jackson Lee described America as the best experiment the world has ever known.
"No one ever expected a nation that was built upon others coming from so many different places to ever survive," she said. "Nobody expected there to be a democracy under a constitution that actually put in place the freedom of religion and speech and movement, and then had the courage to get rid of the slavery by the 13th Amendment in the Constitution, constitutionally bound, and (also) one of the greatest privileges we have - something called 'due process.'"
Jackson Lee, a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee, said the large incarceration of black males and the recent deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police are examples of injustices that still exist today.
"In this modern day America, we must be able to claim the history as a birthright to ensure that we have the opportunities that we should have for all of our children," she said. "There should never be a destiny of our young people for crime and incarceration. It should never be a destiny for our children for poor education and no opportunity."