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Students celebrate black history

Without the efforts, inventions and accomplishments of black people, the world would not be what it is today.Black History month is a yearly celebration of African American culture, heritage and achievements. “Blacks have made great contributions to American society,” said Rev. Ralph Caraway, Tyler city councilman. These contributions range from Dr. Daniel Hale Williams performing the first successful open heart surgery in 1893, to Garrett Morgan inventing the traffic light in 1923. The way black history month is celebrated has changed over the years. “Growing up, we had black schools so it was totally different. It was like a renaissance celebrating good and powerful history,” said Caraway.Even though celebrations may not be as prevalent as they were in the past, the City of Tyler and Tyler Junior College have events and activities to honor black history. A black history program will be at 7 p.m. on Feb. 27 at the Tyler Rose Garden. TJC’s Black Student Association (BSA) and the Black History Committee also have several events planned for the month. Along with a play, Apollo Night, and a dance they will also be hosting a dinner that will take place at 7 p.m. on Feb. 25 in the Apache Rooms. Admission is free for students and $7 for non-TJC students. “We have an obligation to teach our children and students our history and never forget where we have come from. TJC has afforded us the opportunity to do just that,” said DamienWilliams, judicial affairs chairman. Before Willliams became an employee at TJC, there were no black organizations on campus. Williams is one of BSA’s founders and is also the sponsor of TJC’s Voices of Worship choir. “Black history means more to me now, because as a child you really don’t realize the significance of those who came before us,” said Williams. Getting America where it is today in regards to black history and equal rights wasn’t easy. Some people remember vividly living in the time when the color of your skin determined the way you were treated.Ms. Bettye Mitchell, CEO of Life Span Care Consulting Group, recalls growing up in Tyler when racism and segregation were present daily.”I remember a washateria on Vine Street, had a sign that said ‘Whites only, no coloreds allowed,'” said Mitchell. “We didn’t eat out to restaurants that served blacks because we would have to go the back windows to be served.” Mitchell’s father, who was a preacher, was also active in the civil rights movement. “Several times I thought my father would be somewhere preaching, but he would be in jail for participating in a sit in.”Blacks weren’t allowed to sit down at restaurants and be served, so some would go “sit in” at these restaurants and be hauled off to jail. The schools in Tyler were fully integrated in the

1970’s and remembering this time brought up some painful memories.”It is painful now to even look back at the years of going to school from 1970-1974,”said Mitchell. “I remember being at Robert E. Lee, even though they had done away with the rebel flag, a teacher had one hanging up in the classroom.” She said while these times were rough, she understood that integration was necessary. Ms. Mitchell is a living witness to the progress America has made. She feels that blacks have definitely overcome many of the obstacles from the past. “To see Obama (become president), it was just something you didn’t believe you would see in this lifetime,” said Mitchell.Mitchell adds that blacks have not come this far alone.”Certainly the black man didn’t get where we are without our own white brothers and sisters; those with heart and kindness played a part.”S. Eloyce Green also has some vivid memories of growing up during this time. Green is a graduate of Emmett Scott high school, and shares some things she experienced before integration. “I remember going to the doctor and they had waiting rooms for white patients, and back in those days they called them “negro” patients,” said Green. Green said growing up during this time was just the way of life.”My parents kind of shielded us from what was going on. I knew it was there, I knew we couldn’t go to the white theatre, so we went downtown to the Palace theatre.””Directly I wasn’t blatantly affected by it, in school we may not have had the opportunities and equipment as other schools, but what with our teachers had, we were taught,” said Green. Green received her Master’s degree from the University of Lawrence Kansas and began teaching in 1973. Thus proving that education was as equally important then, as it is today. Others remember “fighting the good fight” and being steadfast about the things that had to be accomplished for future generations. Andrew Melontree, an ex-county commissioner for 20 years, was the first black county commissioner elected in Smith County in 1982.”I tried for three years to get Dr. King’s birthday to be recognized and celebrated as a holiday. It wasn’t until the last year of my term, 1986 that it passed,” said Melontree.Even though Dr. King’s birthday was recognized by the nation as a holiday, it was not by the government entities of Tyler. According to Melontree, events and activities are spread out over the month of February around the city. Several small groups are celebrating weekly.”I am glad there is not one event and then be done for the rest of the month,” said Melontree. Life for blacks has come a long way from sitting on the back of the bus, and not being allowed to eat publicly at restaurants. But some people that have been on this long road feel there is still work to be done.”We have come far, but we are still on a journey; haven’t gotten anywhere yet,” said Melontree. “My generation has to pass the baton on to your generation, and you have to pass the baton to your younger generation.” Others would like to see more ways to celebrate black history during the month of February. “Most churches have black history programs, but I would like to see it expressed in the arts,” said Caraway. “Even though we have had some success there is still success to be had.”People of all races are continuing in the fight against racism. This is evident if by nothing more than the U.S. electing Barak Obama, its first black president. More than 50 percent of Obama votes came from white Americans.Melontree, who had also retired from being an activist in the community, emphasizes that no one can feel that the task of overcoming racism is done. He encourages and challenges the younger generations, of all races to work together, and keep the dream of Dr. King alive.”The greatest enemy to progress is comfort,” said Melontree. “That is why I am coming out of my retirement, I couldn’t be comfortable anymore.”

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