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The minutes of the last meeting

Special to The Dallas Examiner | 11/18/2013, 11:20 a.m.
Dallas Skyline The Dallas Examiner

The Dallas Examiner

“Have we read the minutes of the last meeting?” – Rev. Zan W. Holmes Jr.

Do we know our history?

Do we know how we got where we are today in Dallas?

Do we know how we obtained the right to vote in Democratic Primary Elections in Dallas?

Do we know how we got single member districts in the Dallas City Council thus allowing Blacks to have representation on the council subsequently allowing representation for our community on city boards and committees ?

Do we know how we got single member districts on the Dallas County Commissioners Court?

Do we know how the Dallas Independent School District was integrated?

Do we know how Blacks got to serve as trustees on the Dallas Independent School District?

Do we know about the life Blacks lived in Dallas prior to integration of the city?

Do we know about the individuals who fought for equal opportunity in education, public accommodations, housing, etc. in Dallas?

Rev. Zan W. Holmes Jr., during his sermon Sunday at St. Luke Community United Methodist Church, gave an excellent example of how we don’t know our history.

He recently visited the campus of Hampton University. Emancipation Oak, a tree on Hampton University’s campus, was the site of the first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in the South. Holmes and his wife wanted to see the tree. So, they asked several students on the campus to identify the tree for them. None of the students knew anything about the tree or the history of the tree.

The Emancipation Oak stands near the entrance of Hampton’s campus and is a lasting symbol of the university’s rich heritage and perseverance.

According to the recorded history of Hampton University, the year was 1861 and the American Civil War had shortly begun. The Union Army held control of Fort Monroe in Hampton, Va., at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. In May of that year, Union Major Gen. Benjamin Butler decreed that any escaping slaves reaching Union lines would be considered “contraband of war” and would not be returned to bondage. This resulted in waves of enslaved people rushing to the fort in search of freedom. A camp to house the newly freed slaves was built several miles outside the protective walls of Fort Monroe. It was named “The Grand Contraband Camp” and functioned as the United States’ first self-contained African American community.

In order to provide the masses of refugees some kind of education, Mary Peake, a free Negro, was asked to teach, even though an 1831 Virginia law forbid the education of slaves, free Blacks and mulattos. She held her first class, which consisted of about 20 students, on Sept. 17, 1861, under a simple oak tree. This tree would later be known as the Emancipation Oak and would become the site of the first Southern reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.

Today, the Emancipation Oak still stands on the Hampton University campus as a lasting symbol of the promise of education for all, even in the face of adversity. With limbs sprawling over a hundred feet in diameter, the Emancipation Oak is designated as one of the 10 Great Trees of the World by the National Geographic Society.

If we don’t know our history, we have not read the minutes of the last meeting and we will continue to make decisions that are not in the best interest or for the good of our community.

If we don’t know our history, how can we teach it to our children?

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