Celebrating Black History Month – Part 1

February 17, 2021

By Cris Cawthon- 

The efforts to bring more awareness to black history began in 1915 sometime after the 13th Amendment abolished slavery. In 1926, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, founder of The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, encouraged school systems to incorporate more black history in their curriculum. His efforts led to the start of “Negro History Week.” It is said that Woodson chose to celebrate in February as it encompassed both Lincoln’s birthday on February 12 and Frederick Douglass’ birthday on February 14.

In 1976 President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month. In celebrating Black History Month, Ford said in his message, “We can seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

Although Dr. Carter G. Woodson died before he could see the outcome of his work, we still have more work to do. “If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated, “said Dr. Carter G. Woodson.

With the rich black history of notable people such as Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks, just to name a few, I want to share some of Centralia’s black history and great accomplishments.

From Basketball Standout To Centralia Mayor
This week I would like to talk about Centralia’s current Mayor, Herb Williams, who came to Centralia from Chicago when he was about 8 or 9. His dad Rev. A.L. Williams was asked to come to Centralia to preach at New Bethel Church. After moving here, Mr. Williams found a love for basketball and became an Orphans player. His sophomore year he and his family moved to Terra Haute, Indiana. They didn’t like it too much, so Mr. Williams was happy to be able to move back to Centralia and play basketball. When asked if Mr. Williams experienced any prejudice during his away games, he replied, “It got better traveling with Coach Bill Davies. When we would go out of town, we usually had team dinners after each game. I remember when I went into a Salem restaurant Coach Davies was told that the white kids could eat there but not the black kids. Coach Davies loaded us all back onto the bus and we went back to Centralia.”

Mr. Williams shared about his time as a student at Lincoln School. The school had all black teachers and he spoke of Mrs. Tate who used to fill the chalk board with black history. “I remember when she had W.C. Handy come and speak to the class. Mr. Handy is the author of the song ‘St. Louis Blues.”’ One thing about attending Lincoln School, the teachers all taught us to be the best we could be. It was an era where teaching black history, education, and growth was instilled in us.

Mr. Williams has a long history of giving back to the community, from teaching and coaching at Centralia High School and then going on to oversee the Centralia Community Youth Center, to now being the mayor of Centralia. When asked how this came about he replied, “Because of unusual circumstances I was asked to step in as Mayor and help bring Centralia back together again. I’m not a politician, but I am a giver and I wanted to help clean up Centralia.”

Sundays, Always A Time Of Worship
Centralia has eight active black churches that are located on several corners of town. As a child I remember my grandma and grandpa had a church in the northeast part of town. Sundays were always a time of worship and a family dinner followed the service.

I will cover these eight churches in more detail next week.

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