ELYRIA — The Elyria Unit of the NAACP highlighted the contributions of two men at its Black History Month celebration Sunday afternoon at Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church.
Mona Atley, assistant secretary for the Elyria NAACP and co-chair for the event, said Black History Month isn’t the only time to reflect on and appreciate black history, but it offers an opportunity to highlight some accomplishments of black Americans.
“This is just a reminder of that we are great people, but we still have a lot of work to do,” she said.
LaTaunya Conley, NAACP secretary, also was a co-chair for this year’s celebration, which included musical and dance performances from the Good Shepherd Baptist Church Young People Praise Team, the Mount Zion Baptist Church of Oberlin’s King’s Men Male Chorus and the Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church of Elyria Youth Choir.
Elizabeth Meadows, chair of Women in the NAACP, spoke about two important figures at the event, which the group has been hosting for about 40 years.
She first focused on Victor Hugo Green, the author of the “Negro Motorist Green Book,” a traveling guide for black people and other people of color to safely navigate through the American South during Jim Crow era and racial segregation. His book potentially saved countless people from being accosted, attacked or worse while on the road, she said. Green got the idea from a similar book made for the Jewish community that he used as model for his “Green Book.”
The book was in production and circulation from 1936-66. Green died in 1960, just a few years before the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which outlaws discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
The second figure Meadows spoke about was Howard Washington Thurman, an author, philosopher and civil rights leader who was one of the unsung heroes of the civil rights era. As a proponent of nonviolent protest, Thurman inspired Martin Luther King Jr. to practice nonviolence, leading to significant social change for the civil rights movement, she said. Thurman also served as pastor at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Oberlin in the 1920s.
Meadows said she highlighted Green and Thurman to draw attention to pieces of black history that Americans might have lost knowledge of over time. Without the context of black history, she said, it would be impossible to navigate the black present for the black future.
Thurman was often quiet, she said, and people often criticized him as strange, but his contributions were probably what helped change America.
“I just think it’s something we need to pay attention to. Sometimes it’s just quiet people, deep people, who have a very deep impact on our society, on our communities,” she said. “And as individuals, it’s good to pay attention to those quiet people to tell us something that we haven’t heard before and who really admonish us to be still and know that God is God.”