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Artur Davis: Black History Month for everybody

By Kristen Bishop 340-2443

MOULTON — U.S. Rep. Artur Davis encouraged Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce members Monday to view Black History Month as a celebration of freedom for all people.

Davis, D-Birmingham, was the speaker at the Chamber's second-annual Unity Luncheon at the Moulton Recreation Center. The luncheon is held in honor of Black History Month.

Davis said people often have asked him why communities should celebrate black history.

"A lot of people say, 'Those were struggles that happened a long time ago. ... I didn't have anything to do with that," he said. "Another argument is, 'Yes, it may be relevant to talk about those things, but does it not cause some fractiousness?' "

His response was that people mistakenly believe Black History Month is a commentary about the triumph of one particular race.

"Yes, it's true that we took the signs off the water fountains ... but let me tell you what is also true," said Davis. "Prior to 1964, if you were a white person and wanted to open your business to someone of another race, you could not have done it. You would've been in violation of the law."

He reminded the audience that prior to the Voting Rights Act, a white person who believed in fair play and equal rights was as unelectable as a black person.

"There couldn't have been a Bud Cramer in the '40s and '50s," he said. "If you said, 'I want to be a congressman who represents all people,' you would've been defeated."

All were 'set free'

Black History Month is a time to celebrate each person's ability to follow his or her own conscience, he said.

"All of us have been set free," he said.

Keeping with the theme of "unity," Davis gave his advice for unifying a community. He said that citizens should focus on what we all have in common and adopt the philosophy that everybody counts.

He told a story he had heard about reconciliation camps in Rwanda to emphasize his point.

In 1994, 700,000 Rwandans were killed during just three months of conflict between the country's three predominant ethnic groups.

Following years of strife, the government has established reconciliation camps that allow the opposing groups to live together in peace.

"In order to live in these reconciliation camps, you have to agree to live, work and go to church with people that don't look like you," he said.

When reconciliation camp members pass each other on the street, they say a phrase that translates to "I see you." Those three small words have a much larger meaning, said Davis.

"You may be strong, you may be weak, but I see you," he said. "Your kind might have done something to my kind, and my kind might have done something to your kind, but I see you."

He said the phrase is an acknowledgement of the value of each individual.

"The more people you see, the more God blesses you," said Davis. "If we become a place — a country — where we see more people, I think we will be stronger and blessed because of it."

Davis is serving his third term in Congress. He won 91 percent of the vote during the Democratic primaries in 2006 and ran unopposed in the general election.

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