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Getting to know your history
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I believe mankind should know its history.

When traveling to different countries, or just around the television dial to find different cultural programs, I marvel at how in many ways people are the same no matter where they live or where they are from.

In what I call the dinnertime of my life, I am in the express lane to learn more about different cultures. Learning history is vital for me, and black history is a small part of my continued forward progress. It opens our eyes to a key part of American culture. I’m a firm believer that all Americans deserve a month to celebrate their backgrounds and cultures.

If that were a reality, I believe it might help us to learn about our neighbors, and make it easier to be understanding and tolerant to those of different colors, creeds and backgrounds.

Those who study black history in February, or any other month, for that matter, would learn much, just as I did.

For instance, February was selected as black history month because of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.

There is always a "back story" to any story. I learned many years ago from the Association for American Life And History that Carter G. Woodson once traveled to Washington, D.C., to celebrate the 15 anniversary of the emancipation. He encountered thousands of African Americans who had traveled to see exhibits highlighting African-American progress. Woodson was so inspired by the three-week celebration that he and three other men formed the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History(ASNLH).

Woodson urged black civic groups to promote the achievements of African Americans in America. From its creation, Black History Month has had grea impact on African- American communities and the wider communities of America.

Here are some African American history facts to get your February started:

Garrett Morgan, Inventor: After witnessing a bad collision, he analyzed what had happened and realized the problem. He created a third component to the traffic light, "the warning sign." Up until that time, there was only "stop" and "go."

Charles R. Drew: Drew was an African-American surgeon. I leaned about him as a child because my mother’s dream was to become a nurse, and even before she attended nursing school she would tell me about Dr. Drew. I learned he developed and improved techniques for blood transfusions. I didn’t know what a blood transfusion was, but she would read to me about him. My mother would tell me about Dr. Drew, and his visits to John A. Andrew Memorial Hospital in Tuskegee, Ala., about 40 miles from our home in Montgomery.

Black History Month is also known as Black American History Month. I wasn’t aware that this event was an annual event in Canada and the United Kingdom until I was in college. While researching Black History Month, I learned about African diaspora. This refers to communities throughout the world that are descended from the historic movement of people from Africa.

Many years ago I heard actor Morgan Freeman say, "I don’t like Black History Month; black history is American history."

I agree with him. But, until that day comes, Black History Month will be with us to shine a light on the many accomplishments African Americans have made for the betterment for us all.

Recently, I learned about the Covington Fire Department’s first paid black firefighter, Former Battalion Chief Michael Turner. At age 59, he recently retired. This is history in our own back yard, and Turner is a man to be read about during Black History Month in Georgia in future years. If you haven’t read about Turner, a great article can be read at

Read his story to your children and grandchildren. Some child, girl or boy, may find the story compelling and decide to become a firefighter.

African Americans should never forget the past, but also must give present individuals their due. That will be more meaningful to our youth.

The fact is African Americans are in many professions; many have achieved great wealth, respect and fame.

I am not the one to determine who is successful, because success comes in many forms. However, I do know a person can be successful if he/she places value on what he/she is truly interested in. And this is true no matter what race she/he is or what level of formal education he/she has.

Since February is "Black History Month", let us embrace it and learn about African Americans who have contributed to America. ... For many years I have spoken to schoolchildren on many topics. I expect this month to be no different.

Dorothy Frazier Piedrahita welcomes reader comments. She can be reached at