WASHINGTON, Feb. 26, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Washington, D.C. holds countless memories, buildings, and stories of those who have struggled tirelessly for equal rights. It's a place for some of our greatest hallowed grounds for Black history, tracing back to before the birth of our nation. This month, National Vice President Eric Bunn, Sr. who represents American Federation of Government Employees' District 14 covering D.C., toured a variety of significant locations to better understand the rich history in the city he represents, to reflect on those who have paved the way for freedom, and to continue the fight for civil and workers' rights.
See this inspiring journey in photos:
Honoring Those Who Served: African-American Civil War Memorial
Black soldiers and sailors fought shoulder-to-shoulder with white soldiers for the Union during the Civil War, making up to 10% of the entire military force. Despite being brothers-in-arms, discrimination still occurred. Black soldiers faced lower wages and duty restrictions that resulted in a higher mortality rate than their non-Black counterparts.
A Life Dedicated to Public Service and Civil Rights: Fredrick Douglass National Historic Site
Fredrick Douglass was an incredibly accomplished man: he escaped slavery in Baltimore when he was 20 years old and became a dedicated civil servant, a union president, and one of the greatest leaders for equality our nation has ever known.
After the Civil War, when Black men (and all women) were excluded from labor unions, Douglass helped establish the Colored National Labor Union to represent those who had previously been excluded. He was also a public servant who worked as the U.S. Marshal of the District of Columbia. As he often did, he made history in that role as the first African American confirmed for a presidential appointment by the U.S. Senate in 1877.
A Bold Force in Our History: Mary McLeod Bethune Council House
Mary McLeod Bethune, a daughter of former slaves, was ready to harness the power of Black women when started the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) in her living room in 1935. McLeod Bethune was already a tenured educator for young Black people. Eight years later, she purchased a three-story house, dedicating the first two floors as the NCNW's headquarters while living on the third.
The following year, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed McLeod Bethune as the director of the National Youth Administration's Division of Negro Affairs. This historical appointment made her the first Black woman to head a federal agency. She continued on to lead his administration's "Black Cabinet" and became involved in international diplomacy, attending the first conference of the United Nations in 1945.
D.C.'s Transformation: The Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum
D.C.'s historic Anacostia neighborhood is home to the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, dedicated to documenting and displaying the history of our nation's capital. Its latest exhibition Twelve Years that Shook and Shaped Washington: 1963-1975 examines the racial, political, and urban development of this important time in D.C. and American history. Social activists mobilized to confront longstanding injustices of poverty, race, gender, and D.C. home rule—and Black leaders like Walter E. Washington, Marion Barry, and Mary Treadwell were on the forefront of these efforts.
In the Shadows of Giants: The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
"One of my favorite things about this memorial is that even when it is full of people, there is a sense of peace," one of the National Parks Service guards explained during Bunn's visit.
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial was dedicated on Aug. 29, 2011, and commemorated the 48th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. It's the same march where King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech that quickly became iconic of the rights movement. The memorial is the only one dedicated to a person of color on on the National Mall.
The Struggle Today: The U.S. Supreme Court
Despite progress, we still have a long way to go to reach equality and equity for every American. Some of the rights won in battles are threatened once again. There are forces in our political system, including the potential Supreme Court case Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, that attack the ability for workers to unite together.
"Organized labor has historically been the door through which African-Americans entered middle class status. States with Right to Work laws have been shown to have lower wages, lower rates of health coverage, higher poverty and infant mortality rates, less investment in education and higher workplace fatalities," recently reported the Detroit Free Press.
"The Supreme Court is still in position to oppress Black people," noted Bunn on the steps of the highest court in the land.
Looking Toward the Future: Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture
Black history in the United States continues to be revealed and made. The Smithsonian Institution's newest museum—opening Sept. 24, 2016—will give that history the focus it deserves. The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture will soon be one of the next hallowed grounds for African American memories.
"We are prepared to offer exhibitions and programs to unite and capture the attention of millions of people worldwide. It will be a place for healing and reconciliation, a place where everyone can explore the story of America through the lens of the African American experience," said Lonnie Bunch, the museum's founding director, in a statement this month.
As we look to the future, the keynote speaker at the 2016 Black History Luncheon remarked that there are three tools we need to accomplish even more: commitment, courage, and faith.
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union, representing 670,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia.
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SOURCE American Federation of Government Employees