I remember seeing this photograph for the first time as a child growing up in Oberlin, OH. The men depicted were part of a contingent of residents—white and black, young and old—who took part in the rescue of an escaped slave who had been caught by federal marshals. The crowd outside the hotel where the man was being held eventually grew to hundreds of townspeople, and John Price was freed and spirited away to Canada.
Thirty-seven men were tried for violating federal laws. They cited a higher law in their defense. They were idealists who believed in universal human rights.
That story was a proud part of my childhood. It’s seen as a pivotal moment in the history of Oberlin. The story is recollected at civic events and passed down by parents to their children. So when February rolls around, I think about how black history is more than a list of famous and successful African Americans. There is a stream of honorable and brave individuals who have, sometimes quietly and sometimes dramatically, taken personal responsibility to ensure equal treatment for all people.
This also means that black history is still being made by people I admire, such as Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, who has stood for years as a voice of fair treatment for all our nation’s children. By people like Susan L. Taylor—editor, writer, journalist and now leader of a movement to recruit a million African American mentors for youth. And by less famous heroes like Frankye Hull, who at age 74 continues to advocate for abused and neglected children in her home town.
Black history unfolds through the lives of untold thousands of people who understand that the village needed to raise our children—all of our children—requires each of us to live a life of service. February—Black History Month—is a time to honor them, but also to follow their lead.
Black History Month celebrates successful African Americans throughout history. If you are a CASA volunteer or staff member, how is your program working to create success for today’s black youth? Please share your thoughts.