February 1, 1986
Black history is a book filled with rich and unexplored pages. It reached a memorable milestone this very year when the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., became a Federal holiday. This new Federal holiday celebrates more than the faith, leadership, and heroism of one man. It does more than celebrate his splendid achievements or the trail he blazed for others. It symbolizes the struggle of many Americans for full and unfettered recognition of the Constitutional rights of all Americans regardless of race or color.
Black history in the United States has been a proving ground for America's ideals. The first great test of our political good faith came with the Civil War and the rooting out of slavery as an institution. The second came a century later, in the struggle for the recognition of the rights already won in principle -- the abolition of second-class citizenship. To make Americans aware of these struggles, and of all that preceded and followed them, is a foremost purpose of Black History Month. It is also a time to celebrate the achievements of blacks in every field from science and the arts to politics and religion.
It not only offers black Americans an occasion to explore their heritage, but it also offers all Americans an occasion and an opportunity to gain a fuller perspective of the contributions of black Americans to our nation. Let us appreciate this opportunity and build on it.