In observance of African American/Black History Month, Memphis District team members gathered
at city hall council chambers Feb. 13 to reflect on the struggles that Americans and the world have had, and continue to have, in the history with civil rights and freedom.
Hosted by the Equal Employment Opportunity Office and the Special Emphasis Program Committee, the program focused on the 2013 theme: At the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality: The Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington; which is a commemoration of two seminal historical events -- the 1863 signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and its impact on slavery and the 1963 march on Washington and its impact on the Civil Rights Movement.
The event included special greetings from the city of Memphis Mayor, musical performances by the Memphis District Choir, and a key note speaker who’s worked for the NAACP for more than 20 years. Following the program, the district’s Castle Club served refreshments at the Clifford Davis/Odell Horton Federal Building.
“This is a critical time in our history,” said city of Memphis Mayor AC Wharton during his greeting. “We’re not where we want to be, but thank God we’re not where we once were.”
The year 2013 marks two important anniversaries in the history of African Americans and the United States. On Jan. 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation set the United States on the path of ending slavery. On Aug. 27, 1963, hundreds of thousands of Americans, Blacks and Whites, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, marched to the memorial of Abraham Lincoln, the author
of the Emancipation Proclamation, in pursuit of the ideal of equality of citizenship. It was on this occasion that Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous speech, “I Have a Dream.”
“150 years ago the emancipation proclamation started this quest that still has a long way to go,” said Wharton. “Then 50 years ago, Dr. King and the march on Washington reminded us, oh so clearly, that we have not yet overcome.”
Because he saw a lot of young faces in the crowd, Wharton described his younger days and his involvement in the civil rights movement. He wanted those who may have only heard about it or read about it, to have an understanding of what it means to them.
“It simply means that while there was a role for President Lincoln, while there was a role for Rosa Parks, Dr. King and others, there is still a role for you,” he said.
Asking listeners to take a brief journey with her back to 150 years ago, key note speaker Madeleine
Taylor, executive director of the NAACP Memphis Branch, shared her take on the struggles and hardships experienced through the ages.
“This year, we celebrate the freedom that the proclamation started and the 13th amendment finished,” she said. “A freedom from iron shackles. A freedom to learn and begin to make decisions that
would affect our own lives.”
In the past 150 years, freedom has taken on many new meanings for men, women and children, she continued. The equality for all men guaranteed in the U.S. constitution was not immediately
“We had to fight for freedom in the congress, in the state house, in the city council chambers, and in the streets of our city,” said Taylor. “Yet here, 150 years later, we are still waiting to be truly free.”
Although the NAACP has been here for 104 years advocating for justice, equality and freedom for all, Taylor described events today that show how far we still need to go.
“How can we say that we are free?” said Taylor, “When children and seniors live in constant fear of violence from their caregivers and parents; when we live in a system of justice in which prosecution is
racially based; when we are imprisoned in a cycle of debt from payday loans;
when workers pay into social security pensions for years, only to find out that
the pension system is likely to fail; when employment at minimum wage does
not produce enough income to afford decent low-income housing; and when
voter identification requirements are designed to suppress the vote. In such an
environment, can we really be free for the pursuit of happiness?”
On Feb. 12, Taylor spent the day in Nashville with the state legislature. It was NAACP day on the hill. The message that they imparted was “We will stand in, sit in and demand the freedom that we were
promised over 200 years ago in the U.S. constitution,” said Taylor. “We won’t stop
until it can be achieved.”
Just as the Emancipation Proclamation marked the beginning of the end of slavery, the March on Washington numbered the days of second‐class citizenship. “Many separate and different
roads have been travelled that led to the success and triumph of African Americans,” said Shellie McGee, the district Equal Employment Opportunity Officer. “Our purpose here today is to remember, to honor and to celebrate that journey.”