Multnomah County Black History Month celebration highlights contributions of African-American churches, newspapers

February 21, 2013

With a special focus on the historic contributions of African-American churches and newspapers, Multnomah County’s Board of Commissioners unanimously adopted a proclamation Thursday to mark February throughout the county as Black History Month.

“I thought it would be particularly powerful to highlight the importance of black newspapers and churches in sharing information to the African-American community,” said Commissioner Loretta Smith, who brought forward the proclamation, “and give a historical perspective of how critical and important those institutions have been.”

“These two very critical institutions we owe a debt that must be acknowledged, a recognition to their continuing importance in the age of instant communication,” Smith said at the Feb. 21 board hearing.

Representing the institutions of churches and newspapers at the board were Bernie Foster, publisher of The Skanner newspaper; and Rev. LeRoy Haynes, pastor of Allen Temple CME Church. Both spoke to the historic links between the church and newspaper in advancing the civil rights movement.

“The black church and the black newspaper continued to inform, educate, advocate and agitate for an end to racism, discrimination, sexism, inequality, and to promote the uplift of African-Americans and humanity in general,” Rev. Haynes said.

Also testifying were Kassamira Carter-Howard, a member of the Multnomah Youth Commission; Darion Smalley who attends De La Salle North Catholic High School; and Tria McFerson, who was an intern last summer for Commissioner Smith.

Each of the three young people talked passionately about the work that remains for their generation to preserve the Youth Bus Pass program, Summer Youth Connect program and the Multnomah Youth Commission. They also spoke about the legacy of their predecessors as a key reason for Black History Month.

“If Dr. King, Frederick Douglass and Rosa Parks didn’t dream big and fight for equal rights, then I wouldn’t be here,” Smalley said. “If Booker T. Washington, Benjamin Banneker and others would have settled for less, then where would I be.”

“We have to acknowledge the fact that for a very long time the contributions of black people to this country were systematically ignored,’’ said county Chair Jeff Cogen before the board’s unanimous vote. “And that was a big piece of the oppression. For us to get beyond the oppression and create true equality, we need to be open and acknowledge the great contributions black people have made to this country. And that’s part of what we’re doing here today.”