President Barack Obama made his historic trek to Ghana this weekend — the first trip to sub-Saharan Africa since taking office. As part of the visit, the First Family stood in the “Door of No Return” at Cape Coast Castle, a horrid port where black men and women were held in dungeons before boarding slave ships in shackles. Moved by the moment, Obama said: “As painful as it is, I think that it helps to teach all of us that we have to do what we can to fight against the kinds of evils that, sadly, still exist in our world.”
On Sunday, thousands of miles away in the village of Harlem, New York, Gov. David Paterson, the first African American to occupy New York’s statehouse, hosted an event that served as a tribute to the descendants of those enslaved Africans who had to fight “evils” on American shores. In the Great Hall at The City College of New York, he hosted a reception to help kick off a week-long convention that will commemorate the centennial anniversary of the NAACP. Under the theme, “Bold Dreams, Big Victories,” the event attracted conference attendees as well as leading civil rights and political leaders like Rev. Al Sharpton, House Ways and Means Chair Rep. Charles Rangel, former New York Mayor David Dinkins, New york City Controller and mayoral hopeful William C. Thompson, Jr., NAACP’s New York Chapter President Hazel Dukes, and Benjamin Jealous, the 36-year-old former community organizer who last year became the youngest person to run the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization.
As the series of speakers spoke at the podium, each recounted the organization’s history and communicated its vital role in advancing African Americans over the past 100 years. Led by such activists as W.E.B. DuBois and Ida Barnett Wells, the organization was started In 1909 in response to the lynchings of African Americans and defense of blacks’ constitutional rights that had been stripped by Jim Crow laws.
Paterson told the crowd: “The NAACP was established on February 12th of that year, the 100th birthday of Abraham Lincoln, the president who freed the slaves with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. The NAACP was the response to the violence being felt by blacks all over the country through hangings, murders and vicious attacks. It was a reminder to America that we were supposed to be free.”
He added, “The NAACP has always stood for economic, political and social justice. That’s why we have an African American as president of the United States. As governor of this state at the only time when two African American governors are in office at same time, it could not have been possible without you.”
Jealous echoed Paterson’s sentiment, citing the NAACP’s century-long fight for racial equality. The organization won hard-fought battles that desegregated the Armed Forces and educational institutions; enabled blacks to gain positions in corporate America; and hold political office. Maintained Jealous:”Ultimately, those actions paved the way for Xerox’s Ursula Burns to become the first black woman to head a Fortune 500 corporation and for American Express CEO Ken Chenault and Citigroup Chairman Dick Parsons to lead major corporations. The NAACP represents the best long-term investment this country has known.”