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Hoyer speaks at Black History Month breakfast

UPPER MARLBORO, Md. – This morning, Congressman Steny H. Hoyer (MD-05) attended the 37th annual Black History Month breakfast, the theme of which was “African Americans in Times of War.” He was joined by keynote speaker Dr. Lonnie G. Bunch III, the Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Congressman Anthony Brown (MD-04), and hundreds of constituents and community leaders from Maryland’s Fifth Congressional District. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery.

Opening Remarks

“Thank you, Adeyinka, and good morning. Congressman Brown and I are pleased to welcome you to the thirty-seventh annual Black History Month Breakfast. This year, our theme is courage and the remembrance of African Americans from Maryland and across the country who served valiantly in the First World War. Their story of determined service and heroism is all the more remarkable because these soldiers fought on two fronts: against the enemy on the bloody battlefields of France and against discrimination right here at home.

“In a segregated military, African-American soldiers at first were denied the chance to fight and instead given the hard work of unloading and transporting supplies. Later, as the war dragged on, the French military asked for help, and General Pershing allowed two divisions of black troops to see combat, but under foreign command. These divisions, the 92nd and 93rd – which included the famous ‘Harlem Hell-Fighters’ – fought bravely at the pivotal battles of Champagne-Marne and Meuse-Argonne in 1918, which secured the Allied victory a century ago.

“Prince George’s County sent 450 African-American soldiers to fight in that war, whom we remember today. These courageous soldiers should have returned home to a hero’s welcome. Instead, they returned to segregation, Jim Crow laws, bigotry, exclusion, and denial of rights and opportunities. They returned to the race riots of the ‘Red Summer’ of 1919, lynchings, and acts of racist violence committed against black soldiers still wearing the uniform of our nation.

“But over the years that followed their homecoming, many of the World War One veterans brought that same fierce courage they displaced in France to the battle at home: the battle for civil rights and for respect. The ‘Harlem Hell-Fighters’ gave way to the Harlem Renaissance. In the 1920’s and 30’s, black veterans marched at the forefront of movements for African-American pride and dignity, for the expansion of educational and career opportunities, and for unity in the face of injustice.

“In 2018, we are also marking seventy years since the desegregation of our military as well as fifty years since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Neither military integration in 1948 nor the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 60’s that Dr. King led would have been possible without the courage and contributions of the African Americans who served in World War One and the courage they showed both abroad and back in their communities. Courage. Courage to risk one’s life for the freedom of others. Courage to spend one’s life in the pursuit of freedom and democracy at home.

“As we celebrate Black History Month 2018, we honor them – and we thank them for all they gave. And we are inspired by them as we continue the fight for justice, equality, and opportunity today.

“So it is now my great privilege to yield to three outstanding lawmakers from Maryland who are leading this fight in the Congress of the United States: Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen and my colleague in representing Prince George’s County – Congressman Anthony Brown.”

Introduction of Keynote Speaker Dr. Lonnie G. Bunch III

“Wasn’t that wonderful? It is now my privilege to introduce our keynote speaker for 2018. We have been blessed over the years to have some extraordinary keynote speakers at our annual breakfast. These have included Barack Obama, John Lewis, Loretta Lynch, Elijah Cummings, Valerie Jarrett, Eric Holder, and – last year, Dr. Carla Hayden.

“This year, we are honored to welcome someone who, perhaps more than anyone else over the past year, has advanced the work of preserving and presenting black history. Dr. Lonnie Bunch is the founding director of the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. For those of you who haven’t been yet, it is an extraordinary museum, telling the story of black history in America from the seventeenth century to the present day, filled with artifacts relating to the arts, music, literature, entrepreneurship, sports, military service, and politics.

“It also powerfully lays bare the very difficult chapters of our history in which millions of Americans were cruelly enslaved and then subjected to racial segregation and discrimination. These are parts of American history that our country cannot and must not ignore or gloss over. Just four months after it opened in September 2016, the museum had reached over a million visitors

“While most museums average visits between one to two hours’ length on weekends, the average time spent at this one was six hours or more. It is captivating, engaging, informative, and inspiring. And Dr. Bunch has been its director since 2005, helping to assemble its collections and plan the museum’s exhibits and interpretive displays.

“As a high school junior in his native Belleville, New Jersey, Dr. Bunch would read biographies and wonder why there were so few written on great African Americans.  Then, he found a book about African-American soldiers in the First World War, which led him to a lifelong interest in black history and its role in shaping American history.  So it is very fitting that he is our speaker today as we celebrate the legacy of African Americans in world war one.

“After receiving his undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral degrees in American history and African history from American University, Dr. Bunch began his career as a professor of history at the University of Maryland. In 1983, he moved to Los Angeles to become the first curator of the California African American Museum. He served as a curator of the National Museum of American History from 1989-94 and later as Associate Director for Curatorial Affairs. In 2000, he made his way to the Windy City to serve as President of the Chicago Historical Society, one of our nation’s oldest history museums.

“While serving as founding director of the Smithsonian’s African American History and Culture museum, Dr. Bunch also sat as a member of the President’s Commission on White House preservation under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Today, he joins President Obama and the other notable figures we have hosted as our Black History Month Breakfast keynote speaker.

“Please join me in giving a warm Maryland welcome to Dr. Lonnie Bunch.”

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