March 11, 2014

The 1963 March on Washington via Library of Congress
The 1963 March on Washington via Library of Congress.

With a special emphasis on the importance of voting rights, Multnomah County’s Board of Commissioners adopted a proclamation Thursday to mark February as Black History Month in the county.

The Black History Month proclamation adopted unanimously by the board notes that long after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation during the Civil War, many states continued to create and enforce discriminatory laws such as poll taxes that disenfranchised African Americans and other minority groups.

“We weren’t free because we didn’t have the right to vote,” said countyCommissioner Loretta Smith. “Power in democracy starts with the right to vote.’’

The proclamation adopted on Feb. 20 also cites the history of the 1965 Voting Rights Act to combat widespread and persistent discrimination in voting, and the June 2013 Supreme Court decision that struck down essential enforcement provisions of that act.

Before adopting the proclamation, the board heard testimony about the power of voting -- and protecting voter rights for all -- from Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown and Cal Henry, president of the Oregon Assembly for Black Affairs.
“It takes all of us working together,’’ Henry said, “to make that happen.”

The first Negro History Week was celebrated in 1926, but it wasn’t until 1976 that Black History Month was celebrated during the full month of February.

“Black history is our history,’’ said county Commissioner Judy Shiprack. “It is the history of the United States of America and all of us should be studying it.”