Bradwell Institute students were reminded that black history is American history during a Black History Month program Tuesday.
“It should be celebrated 365 days a year,” program participant Stephanie Woods said.
The school’s observance featured choral, dramatic and dance performances and a keynote speech by Liberty County District 5 Commissioner Gary Gilliard. Gilliard filled in for state Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, who was in Atlanta and could not speak at the high school’s observance as scheduled. The Georgia General Assembly is in session.
Along with Gilliard, county and city elected officials and other community leaders attended the program.
Gilliard told those assembled that he was born on Fort Stewart in 1956.
“I graduated from Bradwell,” he said. “We didn’t even have a gym back then.”
The commissioner touched on the Civil Rights Act signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.
“I was still in the second grade,” Gilliard recalled.
He said there was segregation in Liberty County before 1964, and forced integration in the county in 1970. Consolidation in the public schools did not occur until 1972, when the current Bradwell Institute was built, Gilliard said.
The commissioner touched on the struggles of civil-rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others who joined him in the civil-rights movement. Gilliard spoke about the beatings and arrests King and his followers experienced when the non-violent protestors clashed with those who opposed change.
“Can you imagine the kind of courage and conviction a man with a wife and four kids had to have to put up with that (mistreatment) on a daily basis?” he said. “His life was threatened every day.”
Gilliard said King and his fellow activists opened the door for black Americans and other minorities to take leadership positions.
“Today, in Liberty County, we have over 31 black elected officials,” he said. Gilliard said Board of Education Chairwoman Lily Baker, Liberty County Commission Chairman Donald Lovette, County Coroner Reginald L. Pierce and Tax Commissioner Virgil Jones were elected countywide because voters respect them and believe they are capable of fulfilling their obligations. They were elected, he said, regardless of their color.
He pointed out that Hinesville elected its first African-American mayor, Mayor Jim Thomas, several years ago. Gilliard added that a majority of black elected officials serve on Walthourville, Midway and Riceboro’s city councils.
“That represents progress,” he said.
Gilliard said church leaders, teachers and parents also are leaders young people should look to for guidance.
The commissioner advised students, specifically young African-American men, to be aware of their appearance and conduct because society will judge them for it.
“Don’t do anything to place yourself behind the eight ball and up against the rail,” he said.