Obama's First Presidential Proclamation Recognized African American History
By Krissah Thompson
Amid the wrangling over the stimulus plan and increasingly dismal economic news, President Obama issued his first official proclamation last week -- a statement recognizing National African American History Month.
While such proclamations are by now standard for presidents, this was the first instance in which a president could subtly allude to himself as a part of "the narrative of the African American pursuit of full citizenship with all of the rights and privileges afforded others in this country."
"Through the work of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver, Martin Luther King and Thurgood Marshall, the African American community has steadily made progress toward the dreams within its grasp and the promise of our Nation," Obama declared. "Meanwhile, the belief that those dreams might one day be realized by all of our citizens gave African American men and women the same sense of duty and love of country that led them to shed blood in every war we have ever fought, to invest hard-earned resources in their communities with the hope of self empowerment, and to pass the ideals of this great land down to their children and grandchildren.
"As we mark National African American History Month, we should take note of this special moment in our Nation's history and the actors who worked so diligently to deliver us to this place."
For the proponents of Black History Month, the president's statement was an opportunity to again cheer Obama's barrier-breaking presidency.
"This is a significant milestone in the black history movement because one of our goals was to bring about interracial harmony," said Daryl Scott, a vice president of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, a Washington-based group that Carter G. Woodson founded in 1915 when he created Negro History Week.
"To have an African American president sign a proclamation is the passing of a milestone."
President George W. Bush also issued annual statements recognizing African American History Month and last year hosted a group of African American leaders and dignitaries, including Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.); former transportation secretary William T. Coleman Jr. and Ernest Green, the first black man to graduate from Little Rock Central High School, in the White House's East Room for a performance by the Motown group the Temptations.
President Obama has plans for a further recognition of African American History Month, a White House official said, but provided no details.
"If his social calendar is not filled with this it is totally understandable," Scott said. "His honeymoon didn't last a day."
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