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This year we will observe African American History Month with the theme, “At the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality: The Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington,” recognizing the 150-year and 50-year anniversaries, respectively, of two of the most historic events that changed the course of our Nation.

On Jan. 1, 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, he stated, “I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right, than I do in signing this paper. If my name ever goes into history it will be for this act, and my whole soul is in it.”

Although the Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery in all of the United States (just in those in rebellion from the Union), it did set the course for the Constitution’s 13th Amendment, passed and ratified in 1865, to abolish slavery in the United States.

One hundred years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, hundreds of thousands of people of all races and nationalities gathered in a peaceful demonstration for human rights in front of the memorial honoring the 16th U.S. President.

Culminating that August day’s events was the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s inspiring “I Have a Dream” speech, calling for an end to racism in America. Dr. King began the speech with the following statement: “Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity.”

Although we have come a long way in our quest for equality since the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in 1863, and even farther since the March on Washington in 1963, we still have a ways to go for full equality in our Nation.”

In his Presidential Proclamation for National African American History Month in 2013, President Barack Obama stated, “In America, we share a dream that lies at the heart of our founding: that no matter who you are, no matter what you look like, no matter how modest your beginnings or the circumstances of your birth, you can make it if you try … Let us honor those who came before by striving toward their example, and let us follow in their footsteps toward the better future that is ours to claim.”

At Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, we appreciate, respect and honor the contributions of our African American staff members and all cultures represented at our medical center. Your commitment to excellence is undeniable, and it is because of your dedication and great effort we are able to deliver the highest quality of health care to our military population and beneficiaries.

I encourage staff and beneficiaries to attend all of our cultural awareness observances. This year’s observance will be held today from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the America Building atrium (piano area) featuring music, singing, poetry and free food sampling.

Commander sends,

Rear Adm. Alton L. Stocks

MC, USN

Walter Reed National

Military Medical Center