Commentary -- Remember not to make the same mistakes

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- A friend once asked me why we celebrate Black History Month.

Living in a world now where we live at a lightning pace - where we don't often stop to appreciate the past or learn from it - it's interesting that the question is still relevant.

For some of us we act as if the past isn't really that big of a deal. We've come a long way we say.

That was then; this is now.

But I believe it's important to remember your past - partly because it keeps us from repeating the same mistakes and because it helps us to move forward.

Black history month recognizes the vast contributions made by African Americans in building this country and serving as a reminder to all people that although we - as a nation - have made great strides in race relations, we still have a long way to go to truly become a colorblind society.

Today there are more than 39 million blacks in the U.S. fostering a past that is not always well known.

How many of us know some of the outstanding contributions to our nation by black men and women?

Most people know about Martin Luther King Jr., Jackie Robinson, Booker T. Washington, the Tuskegee Airmen, Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X and Rosa Parks. 

But without asking Siri, doing a Google search or checking out YouTube, have you heard of these great black Americans and their accomplishments?

-- Hiram Rhodes Revels was the first black U.S. senator. Mississippi voters elected him Feb. 25, 1870.

--Jockey Issac Murphy won the Kentucky Derby three times - 1884, 1890 and 1891. He was the first rider, of any race, to win three derbies.

-- Dr. Charles Drew invented the blood plasma process, pioneered methods of storing blood plasma for transfusion and organized the first large-scale blood bank in the U.S.

-- Mary McLeod Bethune was the first black woman to receive an honorary degree from a southern white college. She received a Doctor of Humanities degree from Rollins College, Winter Park, Fla., Feb. 21, 1949.

-- Gwendolyn Brooks was the first black winner of the Pulitzer Prize. She won for her collection of poems, "Annie Allen," in 1950.

-- Dr. Daniel Hale Williams performed the first successful heart surgery.

-- Marian Anderson was the first black to perform with the New York Metropolitan Opera.

-- Emmett Littleton Ashford was the first black umpire in organized baseball. He represented the Class C Southwestern International League.

-- Garrett Morgan Sr., inventions including a protective respiratory hood or gas mask, a traffic signal and a hair straightening chemical. 


Some military firsts include:

-- Benjamin O. Davis, the first black Army brigadier general

-- Benjamin O. Davis Jr., the first black Air Force lieutenant general

-- Chappie James, the first black Air Force four-star general

-- Frank E. Peterson Jr., the first black Marine general


These people represent only a few of the many contributions blacks have made to society - paving the way for all of us including electing the first black president, President Barack Obama.

And that's why we celebrate Black History Month.