This blog was written by Graduate Assistant Scott Anderson.
Attitudes in Texas on race slowly changed as the Civil Rights Movement unfolded. These efforts were publicly spearheaded by brave individuals, black and white, who took a deliberate stand for racial equality. Their efforts, in turn, inspired succeeding generations to carry the torch of freedom forward.
One such inspired individual was Chet Edwards, whose papers reside here at the Poage Library. Edwards was partially encouraged to enter national politics by the courageous example of the Civil Rights hero, John Lewis. As a U.S. Representative, Chet Edwards frequently returned to the theme of American civil rights, particularly within the context of Black History Month. In two speeches—the first given to the Killeen NAACP in 1993 and the second to Killeen’s VFW 9191 Post in 1996—Chet spoke at length about the importance of Black History Month to both the African-American community and the larger American community.
The role that African-Americans have played in American society has been too often ignored, and Edwards was well aware that the continued lack of historical awareness had led to sustained inaction. He believed that the key to a better future was a better understanding of the past, and he reminded his listeners that “to understand each other’s history is to better understand each other and ourselves.”
Edwards was optimistic that the march of civil rights would continue, but he was under no delusion that it was inevitable. He emphasized that securing lasting change would require constant commitment from individual citizens, whether black or white, students or soldiers, female or male. Echoing Lincoln, he exhorted his listeners to carry on the “great task remaining before us.” “The challenge of Black History Month,” he implored, “is this question: Will we take the torch of freedom and justice and light the way for a brighter tomorrow or will we take that torch and through apathy and inaction let the light of these great lives flicker into darkness?”
As we reflect on the tortuous path that led to civil rights for all “races, colors, and creeds,” it is imperative that we remember the importance of those brave individuals who have gone before us, while not negating the significance of our own individual actions. We all can play a part in bringing about a new season in American race relations by studying the past and learning from it. They say that spring is Texas’s best season—let’s each do our individual part to make it so.
Box 178, Folder 54 and Box 184, Folder 2 from the Thomas Chester “Chet” Edwards” Congressional Papers were consulted in the creation of this blog post.