As we celebrate Black History Month, we realize our African-American heroes are also our American heroes: Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Jackie Robinson, the Tuskegee Airmen, the architects of the Underground Railroad, the Little Rock Nine, and those who lost their lives or loved ones in the ugly but important domestic battles of the Civil Rights Movement. There are many more heroes, too many to name here.
Locally, leaders like Rachel Noel, the first African-American member of the CU Board of Regents (1976), bravely integrated Denver Public Schools as a member of its school board despite school bus arsons and death threats to her and her family in 1968. Carlotta Walls Lanier, one of the Little Rock Nine, helped pave the way for equal education for her daughter, Brooke, a CU-Boulder graduate, and millions of American schoolchildren. Every day, our faculty, staff and students of color continue their legacy in advocating for inclusion, diversity and excellence in our community of learning.
Our past was built on uncommon tenacity and courage. Now, what is our future? The perseverance of these visionary leaders laid the foundation for more work to come. The struggle for equality and justice for all – the eternal American struggle – remains as pressing today as in times past, and rests squarely upon our shoulders as much as it ever has. We see it in new debates involving immigration and civil unions. We see it in the challenge to eliminate institutional racism and inequality in education, the workplace and in every facet of American life.
As we continue this important, unfinished work we can think of a day when we will not need Black History Month to remind us that African-American history is a part of all of us, interwoven in our American historical and cultural fabric. As Associate Professor Reiland Rabaka notes in this fine student-produced video, “All of America is better now because of the contributions of African-Americans.”
He’s right. Black history is American history -- our history. It’s also a potent set of lessons, guideposts and inspirations for our campus community as we act to fulfill the promise of equality, justice and opportunity in our time.