February’s focus on Black History Month began in 1926 as a week long celebration marking the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Carter G. Woodson, the historian who initiated the event, is said to have “created the holiday with the hope that it eventually be eliminated when black history became fundamental to American history.”
But it was February of 1970 before it was officially celebrated at Kent State University, and 1976 before the United States government acknowledged a month long tribute. In that year, former President Gerald Ford encouraged all Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Black History Month has been celebrated during February in Canada since 1987. However, in the United Kingdom, Black History Month is recognized in October.
There are contemporary critics, however, who debate the issue of singling out one race for their contributions to society. Actor Morgan Freeman has been quoted as saying, “I don’t want a black history month. Black history is American history.”
But regardless of the ideals envisioned by some, the reality is Black History Month remains very much alive and celebrated in Chesterfield County.
Northeastern Technical College sponsored a Black History Program Feb. 13, at the main campus in Cheraw, with guest speaker Dr. Sandra K. Benton. The event was telecast to NETC students in Pageland, Dillon and Bennettsville.
“I don’t care where you came from, how much you have or don’t have, don’t let anyone stop you from fulfilling your dreams,” said Benton, who began her education at NETC as a young wife, mother and working woman. She now holds a Doctor of Divinity Degree from Livingstone College in Salisbury, N.C.
Benton said she found that one of the best assets in life to be her personal challenge to herself to “never give up.” She spoke of others who challenged their own limitations. She spoke of people whose accomplishments are threaded into modern culture, whether their name is mentioned during Black History Month or not. She spoke about people like Garrett A. Morgan, who invented the stoplight; Dr. Charles Drew, who improved the storage process for blood; and Dr. Shirley Jackson, who made call waiting and caller ID happen.
Lemuel Crawford, whose grandfather was born a slave in 1851, made history as the first black man to own a business on Main Street in Chesterfield. The year was 1970. The business was Crawford and Sons Shoe Service.
Crawford’s influence on the community is featured in a story published by Diversity Magazine for January 2013. It’s titled “The Sole of Man,” and was written by his son Gene Crawford Sr. of Chesterfield. Crawford describes his father’s shop in its prime as “a gathering place to receive quality shoe repair and advice.”
The Town of Chesterfield recognized Crawford for “outstanding business improvements” in 1994, and declared Dec. 2, 2011, as “Mr. Lemuel Crawford Day.” Although Crawford passed away in May of last year, his legacy continues to offer opportunities to members of the community. According to Gene Crawford, the family has set up scholarship programs through Chesterfield High School for students who wish to study at Denmark Technical College, Crawford’s Alma mater, or Northeastern Technical College.
Runette Wilson, also of Chesterfield, takes an active part in the community by serving as a member of the Chesterfield Town Council. Recognizing her interest in politics, Wilson’s family treated her to a trip to Washington, D.C., last month to witness the second inauguration of President Barack Obama on Jan. 21 — her birthday.
“It was very cold,” said Wilson. “But I enjoyed it to the highest!”
Wilson’s daughter, Joy Annette Wilson, has been named the 2013 Teacher of the Year for Flat Rock Elementary School in Lithonia, Georgia. Her accomplishments are magnified during Black History Month because a quick look at history reminds us there was a time she would have been denied any kind of education.
Cheraw resident Felicia Flemming-McCall has been very involved in preserving and recording local black history for several years. In fact, she established the African-American Heritage Museum, located on Kershaw Street in Cheraw, for the purpose of educating and preserving the history of Cheraw’s black population.
If you’re ever at loss for information about Black History in Chesterfield County, you might visit the museum, or pick up a copy of her book, “Images of African-Americans of Chesterfield County.”
— Staff Writer Karen Kissiah can be reached by calling 843-537-5261, or by email at email@example.com.