‘Black history is American history’: Lawmakers lead celebration of Black Kentucky history

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Written by the Kentucky Lantern’s Liam Niemeyer

Members of the Kentucky Black Legislative Caucus marked Black History Month and the arrival of lawmakers back to the state Capitol Tuesday with a celebration of Black history, being joined by the justices of the Kentucky Supreme Court, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and Republican legislative leadership.

Rep. Pamela Stevenson, D-Louisville, who’s the Democratic candidate for state Attorney General, mentioned how the impact of racism on all communities is still being felt, yet the celebration was to honor Black Kentuckians in the past who persisted despite that.

“Black history is American history,” Stevenson said. “We get to celebrate the African Americans who no matter what was happening, they achieved.”

One of the past Kentuckians mentioned throughout the celebration was Brig. Gen. Charles Young, the third African American to graduate from West Point and the highest-ranking Black military officer at the time of Young’s death in 1922. Young was posthumously promoted to Brigadier General in 2021.

Senate Minority Floor Leader Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, said a bill would be filed in the legislature to name a stretch of highway after Young that reaches up to the military officer’s birthplace of Mays Lick in Mason County.

The keynote speaker of the celebration, Charles Blatcher III, spoke about his efforts to raise awareness about Young’s life through his role as chairman of the National Coalition of Black Veteran Organizations. Blatcher said his group was one of several that were instrumental to getting Young promoted in military rank.

“Black military history is a subset of Black history. Black military history fills the void in Black history not fully recognizing the importance of our military participation, especially in the initiation and subsequent passage of civil rights legislation,” Blatcher III said.

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Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, who was speaking at the celebration in place of Senate President Robert Stivers, said the GOP-dominated Kentucky General Assembly has been focusing on issues of race more than he’s ever seen in his lifetime.

He said challenging conversations on race still remain, mentioning that some of the writings of bell hooks — a Black author from Hopkinsville who wrote acclaimed work commenting on the intersectionality of race, class and gender — had recently been challenged in curriculum.

bell hooks was one of several African American authors who was recently dropped from the AP African American Studies curriculum after Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis denounced the original plan for the AP course.

“May we strive to uphold our nation’s ideals and make certain the next generation of Kentuckians appreciates the history and enormous contributions of African Americans to our way of life more than the last,” Westerfield said.

This story originally appeared on kentuckylantern.com.

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