The 412th Force Support Squadron put on Team Edwards’ Black History Month Luncheon Feb. 27†at Club Muroc. The meal included baked or grilled chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, greens, macaroni and cheese, bread rolls, corn and sweet tea. During the event, guests heard from keynote speaker, Chief Master Sgt. William Green Jr., 412th Mission Support Group superintendent,†and live entertainment was provided by musical group “B-Sharp.”
412th Test Wing Chaplin Capt. William Adams, in his invocation, prayed that we would celebrate the diversity of our American heritage.
“May we use our diversity to spread Your message of love and peace to all people. Enrich our lives with an ever-widening kaleidoscope of friendships and help us to see Your face in the faces of another,” said Adams.
Thressa Ward, 412th Test Engineering Group, investment manager, served as Mistress of Ceremonies.
“Some of you can remember that we had Rosa Parks here at Edwards Air Force Base…we also had Julian Vaughn, and these were two that were on the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement,” said Ward. “We have a rich legacy of speakers that were part of the Civil Rights Movement and we continue on today with our own Chief Master Sgt. Green.”
“When I talk about Benjamin Davis and Benjamin Davis Jr., who was the first African American general in the Air Force, he was appointed†to four star by President Bill Clinton in 1998. And even in the enlisted ranks there was Chief Master Sgt. Thomas Barnes who, in 1973, became the first African American appointed as Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force. So today we will hear from Chief Master Sgt. William Green who stands on a great legacy of African American achievements in the military,” said Ward.
Green highlighted key events from the Civil Rights Movement, hoping to raise the level of awareness of “how we evolved into the society we have today.”
“I feel this years’ theme, Civil Rights in America, is appropriate since we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 this year,” said Green. “[It’s] considered a landmark piece of civil rights legislation in the United States that outlawed native forms of discrimination against racial, ethnic, national and religious minorities and women. It also ended unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, at the workplace and by the facilities that serve the general public known as public accommodations.
Green noted that the first major civil rights milestone for the armed forces occurred 16 years prior when President Harry Truman signed an executive order to end racial discrimination in the U.S. Armed Forces in 1948.
In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled on Brown vs. Board of Education.
“The court overwhelmingly agreed that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional,” said Green. “The ruling paved the way for large scale desegregation and the decision overturned the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson ruling, that sanctioned separate, but equal segregation of the races, ruling that separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”
Green concluded that the decision was also a victory for National Association for the Advancement of Colored People attorney Thurgood Marshall who eventually became the nation’s first African American Supreme Court justice.
But the fight was not over yet.
According to Green, less than 10 percent of African American children in the South were attending integrated schools by the end of the 1950s.
Green told the story of James Meredith, born and raised in Mississippi in 1933.
“Motivated by President Kennedy’s inaugural address, [Meredith] decided to exercise his constitutional rights and apply to the University of Mississippi [an all-white school]. In 1961, he applied and was admitted. However, his admission was withdrawn when the registrar discovered his race. Since all public educational institutions had been ordered to desegregate…Meredith filed a suit alleging discrimination,” said Green.
Although the district court ruled against him, the case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court which ruled in his favor. When Meredith arrived for enrollment, the entrance to the university was blocked. Rioting erupted and Attorney General Robert Kennedy responded by sending 500 U.S.†troops to the scene. Meredith enrolled in the University of Mississippi in October of 1962.
“He graduated the following August with a degree in political science becoming the first black graduate of the University of Mississippi,” said Green.
Around that same time, freedom riders began taking bus trips through the South.
“Their purpose was to test out the U.S. Supreme Court decision which prohibited segregation in interstate travel facilities which included bus and railway stations,” said Green. “Several groups of freedom rioters were attacked by angry mobs. Due to the violence associated with the first trip, busses only made it as far as Alabama.”
“The freedom riots and the violent reactions they provoked bolstered the credibility of the American Civil Rights Movement. They called national attention for the disregard to the federal law and revoked requirements used to enforce segregation in southern United States.”
In 1965, just four years later, congress passed the voting rights act which made literacy tests and other requirements used to prevent blacks from voting were made illegal.
“I feel it would be remiss not to also mention that Federal Civil Rights legislation dates back to 1866,” said Green. “Why speak about [the legislation]? For me, it comes down to one word, history. History is something I feel we can never lose sight of. It tells us where we have been, what went right, what went wrong, and it shows how we developed into what we are today.”
Green recalled that growing up in Louisiana, he really didn’t “grasp” how the Civil Rights Movement affected him. But as he grew into adulthood, he learned from his parents and other relatives that growing up in the South “was not easy and in some instances, not exactly safe.”
“However, because of the hard work, dedication, bravery and resolve by civil rights pioneers and other concerned citizens to stand up for what’s right, it made a huge difference in the lives of so many people and it also helped shape our nation.”
Airman 1st Class Andrea Jones, 412th FSS, Force Management apprentice, was part of the planning committee for the event. Jones participated in the event to “remember who paved the way” for equality today and to “pay a tribute.”
“I feel we’ve progressed a lot, we’re still progressing and dealing with things, not just Black History, but equality as a whole,” said Jones. “We’ve overcome a lot over the years. We need to never forget, continue the legacy and always pay tribute for those who have helped you.”