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Saturday, February 15, 2003

Legislature Salutes Black History Past, Present

By Kate Nash
Journal Capitol Bureau
    SANTA FE For 18-year Highland High School student Marcella McCoin of Albuquerque, black history is only partly in the past.
    It's also the present and the future, she told a joint session of the New Mexico House and Senate at the Roundhouse on Friday.
    "Members of my generation tend to think that major civil rights events took place long, long ago. However, many of those events are recent history ... Every time there is an ... event involving an African-American, black history is made," she said.
    McCoin, along with keynote speaker Ernest Green, spoke as part of the third annual African American Day in Santa Fe.
    Green is a former assistant secretary for Housing and Urban Development under President Jimmy Carter and a former President Bill Clinton appointee to the African Development Foundation.
    But Green, a Washington, D.C., resident, is probably best known for being one of the so-called Little Rock Nine, students of Little Rock Central High in Arkansas who integrated the school after the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education lawsuit.
    He used stories about that experience to tell the packed audience that education and perseverance can mean major accomplishments.
    "Success is not the work of one day, it is the work of every day," he said.
    Green said that although the African-American population in the Land of Enchantment may be small, at 2 percent of the total, residents here are aware of the benefits of multi-culturalism.
    "Whatever the African-American population is here, New Mexico has not been shielded from ethnic issues," he said. "You've learned that ethnic harmony is a necessity."
    While the speakers touched on the past, they also looked to the future of Black New Mexicans and others around the country.
    "That work (of African-American leaders) is not done. It can't be when the African-American unemployment is double that of whites," said Green, a managing partner and vice president of Lehman Brothers in Washington, D.C.
    For McCoin, the high school senior, she will hold out hope for the moment her history is as recognized as those of other races.
    "I dream of the day that black history will become part of American history, not because it is the socio-political thing to do, because it is the right thing to do," she said.