NAACP banquet honors veterans
CAMBRIDGE — The Dorchester County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) honored veterans at its annual Freedom Fund banquet on Saturday, Nov. 12.
PFC James Richard Jolley, Cpl. Frank Dickerson, Wallace E. Mitchell and Orville Perry, all members of the Corporal Herman Hughes American Legion Post 87 in Cambridge, were presented special honors in appreciation of their ser vice.
Jolley is 86 years old. He entered the Army at the age of 20, and served in Germany. He was honorably discharged in 1953. He is the longest running member of Post 87 at 52 years.
Dickerson is 102 years old, and was unable to be present for the banquet. He entered the Army in 1942, also served in Germany, and received 5 medals and a citation from President Obama in regards to his service.
Mitchell is 72 years old. He joined the Army in 1968, and served in the Vietnam War. He received a Purple Heart for an injury sustained in Vietnam, and additional medals and honors.
Perry is 85 years old. He joined the Army in 1950, and was stationed in Fort Drum, N.Y. before being sent to Germany. He was honorably discharged in 1952.
In addition to the four primary honorees, all veterans in attendance were given a certificate of appreciation and a pin in thanks for their ser vice.
Dr. Clara Small served as the guest speaker for the occasion. She recently retired from her 36-year professorship at Salisbury University where she taught history courses.
She has written books about African American history on Delmarva, received awards for her work in preserving that history, and currently serves on the Governor’s Commission to Coordinate the Study, Commemoration, and Impact of the History and Legacy of Slavery in Maryland.
The message she shared with the NAACP and guests concerned the history of African Americans, free and enslaved, in the United States military. She spoke of the determination of African Americans to fight for their country in all conflicts, despite the discrimination they encountered, and still do endure today.
“All too often we forget to honor those who have been responsible for our safety, our wellbeing, and protection of our way of life,” Small said. “Throughout our history, veterans–officially as well as unofficially–have protected and defended this domain.
“If we examine our history from the American Revolution to the present, our veterans have rallied to the cause of freedom and justice,” she said. “Americans of African descent have served in every war, conflict and military crisis this country has been involved in, even before it was before the United States of America. We have lived, died, and fought for the right to fight and be accepted in this country as equals.”
Small spoke of how African Americans were discriminated against during the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War, World Wars I and II, the Vietnam War and even in today’s conflicts in the Middle East.
“The black soldiers faced a number of discriminations (in the Civil War),” Small said. “His period of enlistment was longer than white soldiers; he had little chance of being promoted to the rank of a commissioned officer; his pay was lower; he did not received the same hospital or medical care; he was furnished with inferior firearms; and if he was captured by the enemy, he ran the risk of being treated as a prisoner of war.”
With World War I, it was more of the same.
“Black and white soldiers were segregated in every facet of life, despite the fact that they were fighting the same enemy,” Small said. “The exception to that rule was that African American soldiers had to fight a second enemy, discrimination and racism, while white soldiers did not.
“By the end of the war, over 100,000 African American men had served overseas and discovered that American racial ideology lacked universal reach,” she said. “Unfortunately, despite the valor of African American soldiers during the war, they were not allowed to march in the Allied victory parade in Paris in 1918. To add insult to injury, the war mural in Paris did not include an image of African American soldiers. As a result, the official, visual representation of the American armed forces was completely white, but they (African Americans) continued to ser ve.”
Despite the progress made with the Civil Rights Movement and other efforts, African Americans and other minorities still face discrimination in the armed forces, according to Small.
“Many of those same discriminatory practices still exist, combined with new concerns of sexism, gender bias, and on and on, while simultaneously fighting the enemy,” Small said. “Yet African American soldiers still serve, and continue to fight for the right and privilege to protect this nation. Some serve for economic reasons, to provide for families. Some serve to travel the world. Some serve to obtain an education through the GI Bill, and for other benefits, especially when there was a downturn in economic activity.”
In light of the discriminatory practices still observed today, Small called for everyone to respect and appreciate veterans and their sacrifices.
“The members of the general public still do not always know or understand what those soldiers have gone through in order to preser ve our liberties,” Small said. “They don’t always respect their efforts and the sacrifices that those brave souls have made in order for us to enjoy the lives and liberties we take for granted. That is the reason why Veterans Day was begun in 1918 as Armistice Day. It is traditionally celebrated at the 11th hour, on the 11th day, of the 11th month of the year.
“Strange as it may seem, we don’t see a very large number of African Americans on Veterans Day,” she said. “We need to change that trend. We need, as a people, to begin to interview them, to learn of their stories. We must recognize and celebrate their stories, and begin to appreciate all that they may have done and are doing for us, this country and the world. If we do so, we can learn of their heroism and the struggles that they endured.”
Dr. Clara Small was the guest speaker for the event. Also seated at the head table was Sharon Egerson, South Eastern Shore American Legion Commander for Dorchester County; William Jarmon, Vice President of the Dorchester County NAACP Branch; and Gerald Stansbury, President of the NAACP Maryland State Conference.
An empty table sat in the middle of the room in tribute to those who were prisoners of war, missing in action, or killed in action. Each element of the setting holds symbolic meaning.
A table display of military gear accompanied the NAACP logo.