Local church holds Black History Month program
By BRITTANY FHOLER
The Bible Way Missionary Baptist Church of Copperas Cove focused on the theme of “African Americans in Times of War” during its 29th annual Black History Month Program held Wednesday evening at the church located on S. F.M. 116.
The theme comes from a national theme for Black History Month from the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASAALH).
Focusing on military history was an appropriate choice this year for the program’s theme because of the proximity to Fort Hood and the community, according to church member Beverly McNair. The annual program has a different theme each year, but this year was the first time using the national theme from the ASAALH.
“The importance is that African Americans have had a presence in Copperas Cove for years and it’s greater, so whenever we have a program like this, we’re emphasizing the presence beyond even just Copperas Cove,” McNair said. “We’re in a military community. We’ve had people that have retired here but they’ve also gone to other parts of the world, a lot because of the military influence.”
The program opened with a devotion, welcome and congregational song before church member Joe Roberts played “Reveille” on the trumpet and different church members who made up the “First Lieutenants” shared historical facts about African American men and women in the military.
African Americans have had a major influence in the history of the Armed Forces in both the United States and around the world, said Ivory Baker, who added that he represented the “First Lieutenants” in the U.S. Army. The rank of First Lieutenant was at one point the highest rank an African American could achieve, he said.
Baker shared the story of the Buffalo Soldiers, who were African-Americans who fought against the Native Americans after the Civil War. Prior to World War I, African-Americans were not used in overseas combat roles, and in WWI, those that did serve were in segregated combat units. It wasn’t until 1928 that Executive Order 9981 desegregated the Armed Forces, but some units remained segregated up until the mid-1950s, Baker said.
Beverly McNair shared the history of the first opportunity for black officer trainees at Fort Des Moines in Iowa in 1917, where almost 1,300 men attended. Because of the development of African American units, there was demand for African American officers, she said. This allowed for more opportunities for African Americans who, at the time, could not serve in the Marines and could only serve limited and menial positions in the Navy and the Coast Guard. Only one class graduated before the program was shut down, McNair said. By the end of the war though, African Americans served in the Cavalry, Infantry, Signal, Medical, Engineer and Artillery units as well as serving as chaplains, surveyors, truck drivers, drivers, chemists and intelligence officers.
“It seems we were indeed moving on up,” McNair said.
Antoine Davenport shared the history of African American soldiers during the Korean War. At the beginning, in 1950, there were 100,000 African Americans in the military, most of whom were in segregated units. By the war’s end, in 1953, that number increased by over 600,000, Davenport said. It was also during this time that the Tuskegee Airmen were making history.
Davenport also shared that the Vietnam War marked the first major conflict in which the troops were fully integrated in the first conflict after the Civil Rights Revolution of the 1950s and early 60s. After the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., racial tensions flared even more and by 1970, the Army Deputy Chief of Staff noted that racial discord was serving as “one of the most serious problems facing the Army’s future,” Davenport said.
Anissa Bailey stressed the importance of black women in the military and their impact on history. She listed black women aviators such as Willa Brown, Bessie Coleman, Marcella Hayes, Janet Waterford Bragg and Christine Knighton, who commanded the 2nd Battalion, 227th Aviation Bn., 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood from 1996-1998.
“Take the time to look at these women and find out about their individual accomplishments,” Bailey said. “They are worth knowing about because our military picture is incomplete without them.”
After a break for songs by the BWMBC Mass Choir, members of the “Youth Brigade”, made up of children, waved little American flags and said the Pledge of Allegiance before sharing more facts about African American military history.
Monique Luckett shared the history of the Harlem Hellfighters from WWI, while Niya Thompson shared more history about the Vietnam War. African Americans made up 11 percent of the total number of troops in Vietnam, but only two percent of the Officer Corps, Thompson said.
Naima McNair spoke of the impact Martin Luther King Jr. had on today’s youth before asking for a moment of silence in honor of the African American men and women who died in war.
Ashley Davenport read aloud a poem by John Agard called “In Times of Peace”. Joe Roberts then played “Taps” on the trumpet.
TaNeika Drive-Moultrie was the guest speaker for the event. Moultrie shared an encouraging message to the men, women and children in the audience that “God’s got you.”
Moultrie mentioned Sojourner Truth, Booker T. Washington, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr, and others whose words serve as inspiration.
“Black History Month helps shine a spot light on their contributions but their words can be motivation to stand up for what is right all year long,” Moultrie said.
She mentioned the national theme, “African Americans in Times of War” and explained that African Americans are living in perilous times and black men and women and children are “at war” with themselves and outside influences.
Moultrie shared that she was raised with her two siblings by a single mother and that her father was a “deadbeat.” Her PawPaw took care of his family and was respected by all, though, she said.
For black men, Moultrie said that there are three categories that they fall into statistically: in jail or prison, drugs, or dead. Moultrie shared that her father, who was hooked on drugs and absent in his children’s lives, eventually turned his life around and became a deacon at his church and mended his relationship with his children.
“Whatever you’re going through, God’s got you,” Moultrie said. This applies to the women and children as well, she added.
Women struggle with self-esteem, self-confidence and self-worth, she said.
Moultrie’s mother raised three children and often went without, so her children didn’t have to, but held fast to her faith, Moultrie said. She reiterated her point.
“I’m not telling you to be Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama or even Harriet Tubman,” Moultrie said. “Just be you. Hold on to God. Respect you. Love you. Value you. Take care of you. And do you, in a Christ like manner.”
Moultrie explained that children need to obey their parents and that parents need to train their children up, as mentioned in Proverbs 22:6.
She encouraged the children present in the audience to stand up to be recognized and pleaded with them to make a change for the better, calling them “our future.”
Prior to the end, veterans in the audience were asked to stand up to be recognized, with some receiving a gift basket if they served in the military longer than others standing.
The church’s pastor Rev. Will Jackson II, closed the program with words of encouragement.
“It is just a blessing and an honor to be here, not only during this month, during this time, and whether you believe it or not, it is good to be African-American, black, Negro or otherwise because the Lord is still on our side,” Jackson said.