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Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz

African American Firsts Announcement
February 11, 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is great to be here with you this Saturday afternoon in Oella to celebrate some of the trailblazers and pioneers who have made this County what it is today.

Founding Liberties

Today, there are few places in this nation where our nation’s founding liberties are more clearly evident than they are here at the Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum, a place that documents the enduring legacy of our African American citizens.

You see, for all the hope and idealism that was woven into the foundation of our nation, there was a thread of deep hypocrisy as well. As our founders wrote their beliefs about the equality of all men into our founding documents, they failed to eliminate the prejudice of those times, declaring in the same document, that some of its people were only worth three fifths of another man, for no other reason than because they were black.

National Heritage

As a nation, we have grappled with the dubious heritage of bigotry ever since, sometimes violently, sometimes nobly, and sometimes shamefully. Much of our history in regard to this issue would be enough to make one despair entirely on the future of this country. But then you go to a place like this, or Winters Lane, or Woodlawn.

Rise Above Injustice

Because for centuries, despite unjust laws and unfair discrimination, countless African Americans strove to not only rise above injustice, but to make the American dream a reality for themselves and their families. In the shops of small businesses unbowed by Jim Crow and in the faces of protesters who refused to accept second class citizenship, you could and still see the very best of America and what we are capable of as a people.

For generations, African Americans in communities throughout America have been inspired by these ideals. They saw our nation as it should be, as it could be, and they refused to settle for anything less. And the progress they made, despite the obstacles they faced, is nothing short of extraordinary. Today, we live in an America where every parent can look their child in the eye and tell them, with certainty, that they too can become the President of the United States.

Henrietta Lacks

However, much of the progress we have made is very recent. There is no better evidence of that than the story of one of today’s honorees, Henrietta Lacks. In 1951, when Henrietta, a resident of Turners Station, began to feel sick she turned to Johns Hopkins Hospital for care. Not necessarily because that was where she could get the finest medical care available, but because it was the only hospital near her that would treat African Americans.

Unfortunately, Johns Hopkins was unable to stop the cancer that was devastating her body, but although they were unable to save her life, she lived on in another way.

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