Black History Month: A national observance

Published 2:01 pm Saturday, January 28, 2023

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It’s hard to believe that another February is now upon us – and with it, another national observance of Black History Month.

Just a couple of weeks ago, our city celebrated the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by holding a special concert at the historic Beulah Baptist Church, located on Beulah Street just off North Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Street. It was amazing! The church was packed with people from every background, black and white, young and old, and the energy was beautiful.

At this special concert entitled “Voices of Freedom,” we truly enjoyed a night “fit for a King.” The songs were inspiring, the spoken word moving, and we as a city reflected on Dr. King’s dream and his vision for America. Indeed so much has been accomplished, but at the same time we still have much to do.

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As Mayor of Natchez, I am so very grateful to serve a city that truly is making great strides forward. Two and half years ago, upon taking office, I pledged to work to “tell the whole story,” and in Natchez we are doing just that. In fact, over just the past few weeks we have had much to celebrate. The Greater Missionary Baptist Convention and Mississippi Department of Archives and History announced a $750,000 grant from the Lilly Foundation to begin the restoration of Historic Natchez College on North Union Street. The City of Natchez approved the design for the Natchez US Colored Troops Monument to be located on the northern end of the bluff at Madison and Broadway Streets. And the Mississippi Historical Society selected the City of Natchez and the Natchez Museum of African American History and Culture to receive the Award of Merit for recognizing 27 African American sites with historical markers. We will unveil these markers at NAPAC this Wednesday, Feb. 1, as we kick off the celebration of Black History Month 2023. The ceremony will begin at 1:30 p.m. at the museum, located at 301 Main Street, and all are invited.

In August of 1963, Dr. King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. Thousands were in attendance as he spoke to a nation on the cusp of both great change and great conflict. Truly this was time of reckoning for our country – whether we would truly live up to the ideals of our founding tenant, “that all men are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights”. Imbedded in Dr. King’s speech was a 36 word prayer for our great state: “I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.”

Born in 1965, just two years after he spoke these words, I will forever be grateful to be a member of that generation that has seen so much of Dr. King’s famous prayer for Mississippi come to fruition. Mine was the first class to go through the Jackson Public Schools in a fully integrated setting, from first grade through twelfth. We celebrated this fact at our graduation, and I have never taken for granted what a blessing this was.

Black History is actually a history for all Americans. Yes, it is a time to reflect on the achievements and heroism of so many African Americans who have strived through the centuries to accomplish so much. But it is also a time to reflect on American History as a whole because the history of every race and creed that has gone into the making of our country is the very definition of America. We truly are that “melting pot”, and unlike any other country in the world, ours is truly a country of all and for all.

One day, I pray that progress will take us as a people beyond the labels that divide us. We are all Americans – period. And in God’s eyes, we are neither black or white, red or yellow. We are people, called to live in love – called to celebrate our diversity, respect one another, and live in peace. Because that truly is what America has been called by destiny to be – a nation of peace. Because America Deserves More.

Dan Gibson is mayor of Natchez.