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Feature Stories

NEWS | Feb. 10, 2017

Speaker gives US Army Central ‘greatest hits’ version of African Americans’ journey in education

By Leticia G. Hopkins U.S. Army Central

U.S. Army Central’s equal opportunity directorate held its "The Crisis in Black Education" themed African American History Month observance, which entertained and informed attendees, here Feb. 8.

This year’s theme emphasized centuries of obstacles that were overcome along with the efforts made by many to educate African Americans, while recognizing it is still an ongoing effort.

“Today’s Black History program brings attention to the crisis in education within the African American community,” said Col. Oscar Doward, 2503d Digital Liaison Detachment commander as he introduced the guest speaker.  “And how inequalities in the American Education system fueled the creation of racially segregated institutions of higher learning that continue to serve African Americans to this day.”

Doward added that he was a proud product of one of those institutions, Alabama A&M University before expressing his confidence in Robert T. Vinson’s ability to enlighten everyone on the significance of those institutions.

Vinson, who received his doctorate in African American History and is an associate professor of History and Africana Studies at the College of William and Mary, used a storytelling and interactive method to grab his audience’s attention. While addressing the audience, Vinson gave what he referred to as a “greatest hits” version of what he normally covers in his classes. Some of the people Vinson’s “greatest hits” included were Robert Smalls, Booker T. Washington, Septima Clark and Rosa Parks.

“I loved the way he did it … like a storytelling,” said Sgt. 1st Class April Millington, USARCENT equal opportunity adviser. “He took us on a journey.”

Vinson highlighted the importance of Smalls’ actions during the Civil War. Smalls and others who fought helped open doors to opportunities like education for African Americans. 

“So we move from the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendment(s) and people like Roberts Smalls are thinking about their political rights and having land” said Vinson. “But they’re also thinking about education and in this moment this is when historically black colleges and universities, like my alma mater Howard University are opened.”

Vinson added that it was through a combined effort of people with good will that is was possible. They recognized education was “absolutely crucial in the advancement of African Americans—and indeed all Americans,” said Vinson.

Vinson loosely tied his characters together to show the importance of their accomplishments. Washington was a former slave and author who became instrumental in the founding and building of Tuskegee Institute. Clark attended a higher school of education for African Americans and became a teacher. She later became a civil rights activist and worked with citizenship schools. Parks attended one of Clark’s workshops in 1955, the same year she later made history by not giving up her seat on a bus. 

“We always remember that education was central to advancing the objectives of African Americans to make freedom real—to make it matter,” said Vinson. “But we also know that this particular African American story is not just African American history, not just Black history. It is all of our history.”