Lessons of African American History
Over 150 employees at the Denver, Co., campus of the Interior Business Center gathered on February 27, 2014, for a tribute to Nelson Mandela, a musical selection by the IBC Ensemble, a guest speaker on civil rights (Reverend Dr. James D. Peters, Jr.) and an optional luncheon–a blended program engaging both the hearts and minds of employees–as well as their hands and voices–in honor of African American History Month.
First-Hand U.S. History
Reverend Dr. James D. Peters, IBC’s guest speaker at the event, has been an active leader in the civil rights movement since the 1950s. His described his talk as “Lessons of African American History.”
Born in Washington, D.C., Peters shared that he too was a federal employee at one time in his career, working in a mailroom as a GS-2 making $2,450 per annum.
Speaking from a lifetime of personal experience, Peters helps others understand what it was like in this country before the Civil Rights Act. While working full time at the Navy Annex near the Pentagon, and attending night school, he explained that in those days he couldn't eat in restaurants, stay at a hotel or go to the movies. He was never in school with white children until he went to college. “Many of us forget how far we've come,” he said.
A tribute in the U.S. House of Representatives to Reverend Peters on January 16, 2007, included a speech by Representative Diana DeGette, which is recorded in the Congressional Record. An excerpt:
“This remarkable gentleman merits both our recognition and esteem as his spiritual leadership, service and lifelong devotion to civil rights have done much to advance the lives of our people... He is a powerful champion of social justice and has led with those who fought for civil liberty and whose deeds changed the very fabric of our nation... As a spiritual leader, he has burnished a reputation as a powerful advocate for inclusion and expanding opportunity for all people.”
Reverend Peters has received service recognitions from numerous organizations including the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Anti-Defamation League and the NAACP. He is also the recipient of the Carle Whitehead Award, the highest award given by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Reverend Peters’ first major civil rights march was in Richmond, Va., in 1959; his first march in the deep south was in Albany, Ga. Then, alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Reverend Peters was part of a group of leaders who formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He helped lead the March on Washington in 1963, and the second Selma to Montgomery march, on the Tuesday after Bloody Sunday, in March 1965. (A 54-mile march, now marked as the Selma To Montgomery National Historic Trail, managed by the National Park Service).
About the Selma to Montgomery march, Peters asked, “Have you ever wondered what happened once we left town and were out on rural Alabama roads?” His first hand account: Things changed by the Tuesday after the tragic events of Bloody Sunday. Every 50-100 feet there stood an armed U.S. soldier, sent by President Lyndon Johnson. Helicopters flew overhead. The press was there. “Isn’t this a great country? In some places in the world, those soldiers would have been shooting at us.”
Associate Director of IBC’s Human Resources Directorate, LC Williams, closed the event, saying, “I would like to grant all of you here honorary Ph.D.’s in civil rights because what we learned today from Reverend Peters is far beyond what you can learn from just reading about it in a book. You almost feel as if you were there.”
The IBC African American History Month planning committee: Michelle Blackmon, Kathy Byers, Kia Fox, Sanjanetta Grant, Shanta Harrison, Porscha Hicks-Plant, Linda Kelly, Shemeka Lawson, Mpho Mogadingoane, Lynette Murray, Sonjia Richey, Gloria Rucker, Barbara Smith, Denise Swingler-Sweet, LC Williams and DeAnne Wilson.