With historic city resident Frederick Douglass in mind, the D.C. Black History Celebration Committee kicked off its Black History Month celebration Thursday at the African American Civil War Memorial Museum.
Hosted by WJLA-TV (Channel 7) news anchor Sam Ford, the event was held to launch Washington’s monthlong celebration of Black History Month and to promote the accompanying print and digital calendar of the month’s events.
Led by keynote speaker and former D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt, the event also served as a Black history lesson and a tribute to Douglass, who will be honored at several events throughout the year.
Douglass, a noted abolitionist, called Anacostia home for much of his life and would have been celebrating his 200th birthday this year on Feb. 14 — a date of his choosing. Like most former slaves, Douglass didn’t know the exact day of his birth, so he choose the 14th because his mother called him “My Little Valentine.”
With their remarks, several of the night’s guests highlighted Douglass events occurring over the next several weeks. District of Columbia Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton announced a bill she wrote and saw passed to marking this year as Douglass’ bicentennial.
Speaking to Dr. Frank Smith, the museum’s executive director, Norton said, “One of my first bills was your African American Civil War memorial.”
“Frank came to me and said, ‘We want to do a memorial to African Americans who served in the Civil War,'” Norton said. “And look at what he has done — not content with a memorial, he has built an institution and we are very grateful.”
However, the crowd seemed to agree that Pratt was the highlight of the evening.
“We have never been honest about the role of slavery, the role of African Americans in terms of the success of America today,” Pratt said. “The fascinating thing about Black History Month is there is even controversy that there is that month.”
Reflecting on the night’s events, Ward 8 resident and small-business owner Damian Bascom said, ” I came here today to see one of my good friends Yango Sawyer receive an award, and also to support Dr. Smith. I really admire the diligence of their work as Black men in our community.”
Physical copies of the Black History Month calendar can be found in The Washington Informer.