Some People Uncomfortable With Ethnic Observances, General Says
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 14, 2001 "I'm a little anxious about the subject of African American History Month because a lot of people are uncomfortable with that subject," Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Clifford L. Stanley told the packed Pentagon auditorium here Feb. 8.
Stanley, keynote speaker at the DoD observance of African American History Month, said the president, DoD, Congress and the nation may recognize African American History Month, but a lot of people still take exception to it.
"The road is still not level. We've still got a long way to go," said Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Clifford L. Stanley, keynote speaker at DoD's African American History Month observance in the Pentagon. Photo by Rudi Williams.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
When historian Carter G. Woodson started Negro History Week in 1926, he said entire chapters of Negro history were missing and should be talked about, said Stanley, deputy commanding general of the Combat Development Command, at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.
Woodson was the first to open the long-neglected field of black studies to scholars to focus attention on black contributions to civilization. He founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, today the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History Inc., based in Silver Spring, Md. Woodson's Negro History Week in time became African American History Month.
When Woodson started to highlight African American history, the nation was divided by segregation, Stanley noted. "The road is still not level. We've still got a long way to go," he said. Today, Stanley is one of eight African American Marine Corps generals -- the largest number the Corps has had at one time.
Stanley said he hasn't forgotten the Jim Crow laws that barred African Americans from jobs and public places like hotels, restaurants and other facilities. He hasn't forgotten African Americans living in fear of racially motivated violence.
"I still feel it, still see it," Stanley told the multiracial audience. As an African American, he said, "I am blessed to be able to see what others may see, even if I don't experience it myself. For example, I'm the person who goes into the company office and the first sergeant does everything but pay attention to me. I'm the person who goes into supply and the sergeant and his NCOs continue to chitchat and drink coffee, kind of ignoring me. I'm the person who never complains when I'm given all kinds of unfair duties and responsibilities."
A little courtesy, respect, understanding and fairness are all African Americans want, the general said.
Looking back into the nation's history, Stanley said when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863 during the Civil War, "there were people who look like me who were opposed to the proclamation being signed and who hated abolitionists."
There were also slaves who wanted to stay slaves, he remarked. "I have a hard time fathoming that, but it happened," Stanley said. He received loud applause when he added, "We have people just as mixed up today!"
He drew loud applause again when he said, "People sometimes get to where I am and we forget." Stanley said African Americans should help each other, especially those who reach high levels in their professions.
"When you find people who don't have quite the political scope you have, be patient with them," he counseled. "If they're not quite where you are, ... deal with them a little better. If they have a different family orientation, understand they came up a little bit different.
"Things change, and that's one of the most beautiful parts of American society," he concluded.
The Pentagon program theme was "Creating and Defining the African American Community: Family, Church, Politics and Culture." Charles L. Cragin, acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, was the host.
Anthony Griffin, 11, a sixth-grader at John Tyler Elementary School in Washington, read his winning African American History Month essay. The deputy assistant secretary of defense for equal opportunity sponsors the annual essay contest at Tyler, where DoD personnel support an active mentoring program.
Gail H. McGinn, acting assistant secretary of defense for force management policy, delivered the welcoming address. Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Thomas J. Minor of the National Guard Bureau gave the invocation and benediction. Claiborne D. Haughton Jr., acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for equal opportunity, delivered the closing remarks.