For the second year in a row, renowned writer and activist Maya Angelou celebrated Black History Month by hosting a special aired on public radio stations across the nation. The San Francisco Bay Area’s KQED aired the program, which embraced African American achievements from civil rights to popular culture, the evening of February 29, 2012 – a fitting end to Black History Month, which was blessed with an extra day in 2012.
Highlights of the program included interviews with prominent figures that have impacted history and continue to fight for justice for all people. Guests included: Poet Nikky Finney, recipient of the 2011 National Book Award for poetry, who shared excerpts from her evocative poem about Rosa Parks, “Red Velvet;” artist Mary J. Blige, who spoke of the years she has spent preparing to portray legendary jazz singer Nina Simone on film; Ambassador Andrew Jackson Young, who spoke of how throughout his life and career he has linked the black struggle for equal rights to “the movement of all human beings to be free all over the world;” and Dr. Julianne Malveaux, an economist and educator, who recalled protesting over the absence of Black Studies in San Francisco public schools.
Dr. Angelou’s final guest, Congressman John Lewis of Georgia, discussed his time as a leader in the civil rights movement and as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. His tale of participating in voting rights protests was particularly moving: on March 7, 1965, Lewis led some 6oo protestors that marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in protest of the laws which denied suffrage to black citizens. The protestors were met with State Troopers, who, when the protestors asked to stop and pray before being turned back, beat them with nightsticks and fired upon them with tear gas. What Lewis points out is that the media coverage of what promptly became known as “Bloody Sunday” resulted in protests at every college in the nation, and created the momentum necessary to pressure President Johnson to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965, restoring the right to vote to millions of previously disenfranchised African Americans. As Dr. Angelou rightly pointed out, this is a story that is so important that it must be told over and over again.
This February, the League of Women Voters of San Francisco salutes the achievements of African Americans, and echoes Dr. Angelou’s final sentiments of the program: that in honor of those who have come before, that all of us, regardless of race, continue the journey for equality for everyone, beyond voting rights to include fair pay, job opportunities, and kindness, and that a life dedicated to this purpose is the noblest of paths.
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