An example of how not to celebrate Black History Month

Judie Holcomb-Pack

An example of how not to celebrate Black History Month
February 27
00:50 2020

By Judie Holcomb-Pack

As the associate editor of The Chronicle, one part of my job is to review and edit every story that goes into the newspaper. I take that job very seriously as I believe our readers deserve to read stories that are well written, accurate, grammatically correct and of interest to our community. When I say “our community,” I am referring not only to the East Winston and the African American community, but also to the Winston-Salem community, because I believe we are all connected and to prosper and thrive, we must support each other.

However, I must also point out that I am a white woman working among an all-black staff at a black newspaper. My nearly six years of working at The Chronicle has educated me to a culture that is somewhat different than the one I grew up in, although I grew up on Waughtown Street in Southside and proud to be a Parkland grad (Go Mustangs!). Outside of work, many of my friends are white.

That being said, we recently received a submission honoring Black History Month from Lt. Gov. Dan Forest touting a forgotten black man, Thomas Oscar Fuller, the first African American elected to the N.C. Senate in 1899. It started out with the interesting fact that, according to Forest, “There’s a framed poster from the year 1899 hanging in the Lieutenant Governor’s office, with small portraits of all of that year’s members in the North Carolina Senate. You wouldn’t recognize the names anymore. But the reason we keep it on the wall is the man hidden in the very bottom right-hand corner. He is listed as Senator T.A. Fuller, though his name is printed incorrectly. He’s the only Senator not listed in alphabetical order.”

Wow, Forest had me captivated! A mystery … why was his name misspelled … why was he not listed in alphabetical order? I kept reading. Forest explained:

“It’s time he got his due. Thomas Oscar Fuller of Warrenton was the first black American elected to the North Carolina Senate. Indeed, he was the only black person elected to the Senate until 1968. Just as he is treated in the poster, he was treated in real life. Sen. Fuller was seated in the back corner of the chamber, next to an open door that subjected him to insults and threats during official proceedings. He was not permitted to serve on any committees. Still, he left an indelible mark on our state’s history. Born just two years after the Civil War, Fuller had already earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from Shaw University and served his community as a school teacher, principal and Baptist minister before his election to the Senate. Despite his isolation in office, Fuller was credited with preserving the number of schools serving black children in North Carolina and increasing the frequency of circuit court hearings statewide. He vigorously defended black Americans’ right to vote. One of his speeches was described by the press as having “swept the audience away on wings of oratory.”

I was hooked! What an inspiring story to tell during Black History Month.

And that’s when Forest left me reeling. As I continued to read his article, a creepy feeling came over me.

Had he just ended the story there, it would most certainly have made the Forum section of The Chronicle. But my conscience would not let me approve this piece. The next sentence stated, “I take pride in and draw inspiration from the fact that Sen. Fuller was a Republican.”

I take offense to Dan Forest for mentioning this in an otherwise great story during an election year in which he is running as a Republican.  In fact, he continues by listing “… others worthy of note” who also happen to be black Republicans.

He ends by saying, “As your Governor, I look forward to memorializing leaders like those through monuments at the State Capital and other pubic grounds. We must make sure that North Carolina’s black leaders finally get their due.”

It is my personal opinion that Dan Forest is pandering to the black media and our readers. I can’t help but wonder if Forest sent this release to only black newspapers in our state. 

A great opportunity to educate us about an unsung hero … lost due to partisan pandering.

And that leads me to question if that’s the real reason that they keep that poster on the wall. 

Mr. Forest, a bit of advice from a former Toastmaster: Know your audience. Know your subject. Know when to stop talking.

Judie Holcomb-Pack is the associate editor of The Chronicle.

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