By Ryo Isobe, FLEACT Yokosuka Public Affairs
YOKOSUKA, Japan (Feb. 17, 2017) – Ship Repair Facility and Japan Regional Maintenance Center (SRF-JRMC) celebrated the African-American History Month to commemorate and recognize significant contributions to the United States and its society by African-Americans.
SRF-JRMC officers, Sailors, U.S. civilians and Japanese personnel gathered at the command’s quarterdeck to recognize the month with a ceremony, which included a guest speech, potluck lunch and cake-cutting.
“It is important not only for Yokosuka, but equally everywhere,” said Electronic Technician Petty Officer 1st Class Nolan Mason, the command’s cultural heritage event coordinator. “It allows our fellow Japanese and other nations to see how diverse our nation is, [how we] celebrate our diversity, and recognize that America’s strength lies within our diversity.”
Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman Timothy L. Whitaker, the senior enlisted leader and directorate for the administration at U.S. Naval Hospital, Yokosuka, served as SRF-JRMC’s special event guest speaker for this year’s theme on “the Crisis in Black Education.”
In his speech, Whitaker recounted his mother’s story about her grandmother in North Carolina. The grandmother used to ask Whitaker’s mother, as a little girl, to read to her when she came back from school. The grandmother did actually know how to read and write, but she wanted to make her child read to her to ensure she was learning well at school.
Whitaker’s story of his mother’s grandmother was shared as an example of how African-Americans historically thought highly of the importance of education.
In addition, he shared other stories of more African-Americans whose “success left footprints” toward the field of education, as well as the music industry and the Navy.
Born in 1930, despite his loss of eyesight, Ray Charles learned to become a well-known musician, widely ranging from gospel to blues and from country to R&B music.
During the 1950s, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. believed in the strength of education and led the civil rights movement during the 1950s.
In July 2015, Rear Adm. Stephen C. Evans took command of Naval Service Training Command in Great Lakes, Ill. and has contributed to the current and future education for the Navy.
As for the origins of African-American History Month, the observance dates back in 1915, when historian and author Dr. Carter G. Woodson founded the association for the study of African-American Life and History. Woodson and the association initiated the first African-American History Week in February 1926.
In terms of how February was particularly chosen for this yearly federal observance, it was because of two prominent figures’ birthdays: Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States and Frederick Douglass, leader of the abolitionist movement in the 19th century. During the civil rights movement era in the 1950s, the week expanded to African-American History Month in some parts of the country.
After country-wide recognition and with a message by the 38th president, Gerald Ford, the association broadened the week to the whole month. Since then, every U.S. President has issued messages or proclamations to acknowledge the accomplishments of African-Americans.
In 1986, U.S. Congress officially passed a law setting February as African-American History Month.