Black History Month event celebrates legacy, heritage of Black Missourians

Julie Smith/News Tribune
Directed by Michelle Gamblin-Green, foreground left, the Lincoln University Vocal Ensemble performed the song  "My God is so High" during the Black History Month celebration at the Harry S. Truman State Office Building Thursday.
Julie Smith/News Tribune Directed by Michelle Gamblin-Green, foreground left, the Lincoln University Vocal Ensemble performed the song "My God is so High" during the Black History Month celebration at the Harry S. Truman State Office Building Thursday.

The Missouri Commission on Human Rights held the "State of Missouri 2023 Black History Month Celebration" on Thursday afternoon at the Truman Building. A keynote speech was delivered by the Rev. Charles Jackson.

Pre-recorded remarks were delivered by Gov. Mike Parson, who emphasized the need for diversity in Missouri.

"The (2023 Black History Month Celebration) theme is Strengthening Communities for the Future, Black History in the Making," Parson said. "Together let's celebrate the rich diversity of our country, the legacies of those who helped make our great nation and the Black leaders of today. As always, it is an honor and privilege to be your state governor here in the state of Missouri, God bless."

The Lincoln University Vocal Ensemble performed at the event, doing an a capella rendition of the song "My God Is So High."

The event was created as a collaboration between people from the Missouri Commission on Human Rights, Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, Office of Equal Opportunity and other organizations.

Rep. Marlene Terry, D-St. Louis, also gave a speech about the history of Black History Month and the importance of acknowledging the role Black people have in shaping American culture and history.

"You cannot tell the story of Black History without the state of Missouri," Terry said. "Legendary Black musicians like Miles Davis and Chuck Berry called St. Louis home. ... Mere steps from this building is our Supreme Court, where Dred Scott fought against the blight of slavery in this country. Our history is a reminder of how far we've come and how far we can go as a nation."

Terry went on to describe the circumstances that led to the creation of Black History Month.

"Dr. Carter G. Woodson of Virginia, the son of former slaves, and one of the first African Americans to earn a doctorate from Harvard, dedicated his career to Black history. In 1926, he proposed the annual Negro History Week to be held in February," Terry said. "Fifty years later (following a grassroots push) ... the United States officially recognized February as a time to celebrate the history of innovation, influence and resilience of African Americans. Education is what brought history into the light."

Dr. Alphonso Sanders, a music scholar and provost and vice president for Student Affairs at Lincoln University, performed the song "What a Wonderful World" by Louis Armstrong. Sanders also spoke about the relationship Black musicians had with the recording industry in the 1960s.

"The idea was to get white musicians to cover the Black songs so that the young white kids, who are very familiar with the Black songs, would buy it and that changed the way the industry was working," Sanders said.

Sanders did a performance of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" after the keynote from Jackson.

"Today's event is a collaboration between team members across several state agencies who work hard to help us celebrate the heritage of Black Missourians," Parson said. "We join together with other local and national groups to recognize important members of our history."

The Missouri Commission on Human Rights is a subsidiary of the Department of Labor and, according to its mission statement, was made to "develop, recommend, and implement ways to prevent and eliminate discrimination and to provide fair and timely resolutions of discrimination claims through enforcement of the Missouri Human Rights Act."

photo Julie Smith/News Tribune Dalecia Powell steps forward to sing the solo portion of "My God is so High" while performing with the Lincoln University Vocal Ensemble at Thursday's Black History Month celebration in the Harry S. Truman State Office Building.
photo Julie Smith/News Tribune Alphonso Sanders plays the trumphet while delivering a brief lesson on the history of Black influences in music through the years while taking part in Thursday's Black History Month celebration in the Harry S. Truman State Office Building.
photo Julie Smith/News Tribune Rev. Charles Jackson delivers the keynote address at Thursday's Black History Month celebration in the Harry S. Truman State Office Building. State employees from all state agencies were welcome to attend the event.