Caltrans Black History Month Event
They served with honor: African Americans and the Civil War
“From resolute Revolutionary War soldiers fighting for liberty to the hardworking students of today reaching for horizons their ancestors could only have imagined, African Americans have strengthened our Nation by leading reforms, overcoming obstacles, and breaking down barriers. During National African American History Month, we celebrate the vast contributions of African Americans to our Nation's history and identity.” - President Barack Obama
In the United States of America many battles have been fought in the courtroom, legislative halls, academia, buses, and in the trenches. But all too often, the story of those who helped fight the battles to improve and protect the quality of life in the U.S. have been left out or ignored. On Thursday, February 24, Caltrans employees did their part to bring to the surface the story of African Americans who fought in the Civil War and died carrying with them the dream of freedom and prosperity.
The event fittingly began with a Color Guard from the New Buffalo Soldiers, Company H, 10th Calvary, from Shadow Hills, California. Nicknamed by Native Americans for their tenacity and ferocity in battle, Buffalo Soldiers were comprised of African American soldiers who served valiantly in the frontier lands of the American west.
“African American history and American history are intertwined. The Buffalo Soldiers are a stark reminder of the roles that African Americans have played to attain freedom and acceptance in America,” said Small Business Administrator Thomas Knox, who was the emcee.
“The lessons of the Civil War are many and continue to affect us today,” said City of Pomona Public Works Director and author Daryl Grigsby, the keynote speaker. Grigsby spoke about the history of African Americans and their struggles during the Civil War and Reconstruction periods.
The event also displayed some of the musical talents of Caltrans employees. Taking a page out of the old slave spiritual songs, Information Technology Analyst Terria Young sang O Freedom, while Morningside High School student Andrea Bustos performed an interpretive dance. Young also sang Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. Both songs were believed to be used to carry messages for the Underground Railroad, which was used to help slaves escape from bondage. Transportation Engineer Robert Colvin, a member of Traffic Jam, played the sax and provided the tunes for those singing. Office Assistant Gary Gordon sang America, the Beautiful.
This year’s silent auction was amazing. Clippers tickets, art work, an Apple iPad, Hawaii vacation packages, sports paraphernalia, spa, gift baskets, Nintendo Wii, books, California African American Museum tickets, and Mary Kay cosmetics, were some of the prizes that were “silently” auctioned off. The silent auction raised $2,300 dollars for the United Negro College Fund, a portion of the money was, also given to the New Buffalo Soldiers.
“Black History Month is not only for celebration, but it also brings about awareness and education about everything that has meant something to all of us in our history and our path. And be able to share it and find common ground. In District 7—we do find common ground,” said Deputy District Director of External Affairs Deborah Robertson.
Another highlight was the “soul” food prepared provided by Mylaunna “Ssunny” Lee, an associate right of way agent. Ribs, barbeque beans, sweet potatoes, greens, Louisiana fried chicken, and some amazing deserts we served at the event.
Without the dedication of Caltrans staff involved in the event, this event may have not been possible. But thanks to their ingenuity and efforts, several sponsors such as California Bear Credit Union, Jafra, Memorable Moments, Professional Engineers in California Government-Los Angeles Chapter, Aqua, California African American Museum, California Science Center, Green tye, Aston, Pentel, and Mary Kay were able help support the event.