Publisher’s Note on Memorial Day

Publisher’s Note on Memorial Day

Publisher’s Note on Memorial Day

Sergeant William De Armond recieves Medal of Honor

Memorial Day was established as a federal holiday to honor those who died while serving in the armed forces.  Every year at this time, we at Our Heritage Magazine Online pause to remember the valiant men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice so that we might enjoy the blessings of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  And we hold a special place in our hearts for those who fearlessly went into battle and gave their lives while being cruelly denied the rights, dignities, and recognition they deserved as citizens of the United States.

Our Black soldiers have an impressive resume that dates back to our country’s birth. During the American Revolution, approximately 9,000 freemen and slaves fought for the Continental Army. Four African American regiments served in the Spanish-American War, during which they fought valiantly against the British. African Americans, many of them escaped slaves, made up fifteen percent of the naval forces during the War of 1812. During the Civil War, Black leaders such as Frederick Douglas encouraged Black men to become soldiers to ensure their citizenship; by the end of the war, roughly 180,000 Black men served as soldiers in the U.S. Army and another 10,000 in the Navy. WWI, WWII, the Korean War, Vietnam, the Gulf War—Black soldiers died in all of them.

The resume of enduring service is lacking in one area, however—in the space designated for medals, awards, and recognition for achievement and valor.  Black soldiers displayed true strength of character by volunteering their own lives to protect a nation that didn’t consider them as full and equal citizens. Over one million Black men and women served in the armed forces during WWII, but not one deserving Black service member would be honored with one of the 432 Medals of Honor bestowed at the end of that war.  It would take 50 more years to correct this injustice. Although Bill Clinton retroactively awarded the Medal of Honor to seven Black servicemen on January 13, 1997, it was too little and far too late—only one of the men was still alive to accept the honor and enjoy the long overdue recognition. 

While every soldier that has served our country honorably from its inception holds a special place in hearts and minds, we at Our Heritage Magazine Online will be spotlighting the many unsung Black heroes who gave their all to protect this country while slavery, segregation and racism were a bitter fact of life. Our profile story this month is on the Red Ball Express, a vital WWII transport and supply unit made up of mostly Black men who were fighting a war on two fronts—against fascism abroad and racism at home.  Upon forming the Red Ball Express after D-Day, Brigadier General Ewart G. Plank had declared, “Let it never be said that [a lack of supplies] stopped Patton when the Germans couldn’t.”  And it didn’t—because of the devotion to duty of thousands of Black men who had been denied their full rights as American citizen, but who were committed to doing their part to win the war.  These men, along with so many before and after them, were denied recognition not because they lacked outstanding accomplishments, but because of the color of their skin.  At Our Heritage Magazine Online, we are honored to share many of their inspiring stories with you.

Alvin Fagan
Publisher, Our Heritage Magazine
Publisher’s Note on Memorial Day

Red Ball Express

The Red Ball Express

Fighting Nazis and Racism During WWII

Shown here in May 1945, these black soldiers were attached to the 666th Quartermaster Truck Company that was part of the Red Ball Express. National Archives
Fighting for respect at home and abroad.
Photo from National Archives

It is often said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Great photography can transport the viewer to a place and time, and evoke emotions where words often pale.  Much of what we know today about World War II comes from the images that thousands of combat photographers took to document the human triumphs and tragedies wrought by war.  Think of the iconic Iwo Jima flag-raising photo, or the image of allies liberating emaciated survivors at Buchenwald to understand the power of photography to tell a story.

Sometimes, though, words might just be worth a thousand pictures. Because hidden in the millions of photographs taken during WWII, is a photo that is easily bypassed—a grainy shot of a group of men standing at ease, next to a convoy of trucks that reaches into the distance as far as the eye can see.  At first glance, nothing striking, but a closer inspection of the photo shows that every face that is visible belongs to a Black man.  And there are hundreds more of these everyday shots—Black men fixing engines, Black men driving trucks, and Black men loading equipment for transport.  Not iconic photos in any way, but photos that beg for the rest of the story to be told.

And that story really begins with D-Day—when the largest invasion force in history began landing on the beaches of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944.  Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower knew the operation would be a race against time, and that the German’s counterattack would be the deciding factor in success or failure of not only the invasion, but perhaps the war.  Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, nicknamed “Desert Fox” for his cunning leadership in North Africa, was commanding the German army in France, and would move his best units, including Panzer (tank) divisions, quickly into position once he knew where the Allies would land.  Something had to be done to give the Allies an edge.  So, Eisenhower made an unpopular decision, ordering the bombing of the French railway system.  This, he believed, was the best way to hamper the Germans’ ability to quickly bring in troops and heavy equipment to the beachhead for a counterattack. 

The tactic worked exactly as planned, and the extreme bravery and perseverance of the Allied forces put the German Army into full retreat eastward across France by August of 1944.  But the bombing of the rail system was a double-edged sword.  It had succeeded spectacularly in keeping Rommel’s supplies and reinforcements at bay, but it also created a serious logistics problem for the Allies, who now had over 1 million soldiers ashore. The US Third Army under General George S. Patton Jr. was covering more than 80 miles a week as it worked to liberate France from the Nazis, and as Eisenhower noted, “with 36 divisions in action, we were faced with the problem of delivering from beaches and ports to the front lines some 20,000 tons of supplies every day.”  With rail transport out as an option, and most of the ports in France damaged or still under German control, the army would need a plan, and they needed it quickly.

Red Ball Express trucks
Keep them rolling.

The only way to deliver the vital supplies needed would be the way Eisenhower had forced the Germans to do it—slowly, by truck, over bombed-out, narrow roads that weren’t designed to handle heavy equipment and military vehicles. Two officers, Lt. Col. Loren A. Ayers and Major Gordon K. Gravelle, spent 36 hours brainstorming and devised a creative solution that would capitalize on the abundance of trucks the Americans had unloaded in Normandy. The temporary solution would be a convoy system, named “The Red Ball Express,” a massive fleet of some 6,000, “deuce-and-a-half” ton GMC “Jimmy” trucks, along with other vehicles, running continually in a loop, jam-packed with supplies heading to the front, then returning empty.  (The “Red Ball” name came from a railway practice of marking priority cars with a big red dot, and these Red Ball Express trucks would be emblazoned with the same red dot and given priority on the roads.)  So the Allies had a plan—but there was a problem—finding enough drivers to move the staggering amount of supplies needed.  Colonel Ayers was tasked with finding 23,000 drivers—two for every truck, so one could sleep while the other drove.

And it’s here that the story of those pictures comes to life. Upon entering the war after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, the United States was fighting a war for freedom abroad, while at home, it remained divided along racial lines by Jim Crow laws. Those entering through the “Blacks Only” door saw little equality in the “separate but equal” daily life to which they were relegated—Blacks struggled to get hired for high-paying jobs, their children were forced to attend underfunded schools, and they endured targeted violence, often at the hands of those hired to “protect and serve” the community. But even while being denied basic human rights at home, Black men and women didn’t hesitate to heed the call to serve their country when the need arose.

During WWII, racism didn’t keep Blacks from going overseas with the armed forces, but it certainly influenced the work they were assigned to do once there.  The critical need for manpower forced the Army to field several African American combat units during the war, but the overwhelming majority of the 900,000 Blacks that served in the Army during the war were limited to support jobs. Black soldiers were routinely assigned to labor and service units and given jobs in the mess hall, the laundry, in construction and the motor pool rather than combat and leadership roles. So it was to this underutilized pool of men that Colonel Ayers looked.  And it was these Black men who would make up 75 percent of the drivers who would meet the Allies’ logistics challenge and create the military legend that was the Red Ball Express.

Red Ball Express

Most of the Black men Colonel Ayers found were under the age of 24, and few had experience driving trucks before the war.  Driving day and night, over a 700-mile supply route, the Red Ball truckers earned a reputation as tireless and fearless. With little training, the two-man teams made the 54-hour round trip in the rough-riding trucks, over roads that went from deeply rutted to slick cobblestone and wound through little towns with such tight corners that there was no room for even the slightest navigation error.  And half of this journey was done in pitch dark.  The drivers  slept little and drove fast—some mechanics even removed the governors to allow an increase in top speed—because they knew how high the stakes were for the units they had to keep fed, armed, and rolling.  Guards were posted at every intersection along the route to guarantee the trucks did not have to stop for anything, but the drivers still faced Luftwaffe strafing attacks and German snipers along the route.  Everywhere the drivers saw the sights of war—bombed out hamlets, abandoned German tanks, injured soldiers, and hastily dug graves.

In a message to the Red Ball Express in October of 1944, Supreme Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote, “To it falls the tremendous task of getting vital supplies from ports and depots to combat troops, when and where such supplies are needed, material without which armies might fail. To you drivers and mechanics and your officers, who keep the Red Ball vehicles constantly moving, I wish to express my deep appreciation. You are doing an excellent job.”

After many railway links were repaired and the port of Antwerp opened, the drivers of the Red Ball Express returned to their respective units. In its 82 days of operation, the convoy had made the American military the most mobile force in the war, and was hailed as having played an essential role in the Allied victory in Northern Europe.  Upon forming the Red Ball Express, General Plank had declared, “Let it never be said that [a lack of supplies] stopped Patton when the Germans couldn’t.”  And it didn’t—because of the devotion to duty of thousands of Black men who had been denied their full rights as American citizen, but who were committed to doing their part to win the war.

Fighting for Respect

Fighting for Respect

Fighting for Respect:

Father and Son Broke Barriers in the U.S. Military

Benjamin O. Davis Jr.
Tuskegee Airman and U.S. Air Force General Benjamin O. Davis Jr.

“Some have had to bear a heavier burden than others to teach us all what right looks like….”

General David L. Goldfein

When Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein spoke these words, he was honoring Benjamin O. Davis Jr., the former Tuskegee Airman who broke through the color barrier in the Air Force and achieved the rank of general in 1960—only the second Black man ever to reach that rank in our nation’s history.  But Goldfein could easily have spoken those same words about Davis Jr.’s father, Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., a career Army officer who, through perseverance and determination, became the first Black general in the U.S. military in 1940.   The father and son both served their country with distinction, though for much of their careers neither could get a cup of coffee in the same café as White soldiers. Both men would be instrumental in the eventual desegregation of the U.S. military—leaving a powerful legacy that would influence generations to come.

Benjamin O. Davis Sr., the grandson of a slave, heard the call of duty as a young man in Washington, D.C..  (There is speculation that he heard that call a little earlier than he should have—Davis likely lied about his age so that he could enlist in the Army without the permission of his parents.) Davis served with the 8th United States Volunteer Infantry, an all African-American unit in 1898, during the Spanish American War, then enlisted as a private with the 9th Cavalry “Buffalo Soldiers” in Utah, protecting settlers on the Western front.  In late 1900, Davis’s unit was commanded by Lieutenant Charles Young, the only African-American officer serving in the U.S. military at that time.  It was a pivotal moment for Davis—opening his eyes to what was possible for a Black man to achieve in the Army.  Young became a mentor to Davis, tutoring him in the subjects that would be covered on the officer’s exam that Davis would need to pass in order to advance.  On February 2, 1901, Davis passed the exam and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Cavalry in the Army, assigned as a supply officer in the Philippines.

Buffalo Soldier and U.S. Army General Benjamin O. Davis Sr.

In the years that followed, he rose slowly through the ranks.  His plodding progress wasn’t due to any failing as an officer—he was described as extremely capable by his superiors—but he was kept out of combat and moved around so that he would not be in command of White officers. Davis could only watch as other, less senior White officers leap-frogged over him and were fast-tracked to higher command positions.  But he was a role model for the next generation of Black officers, as he taught military science and tactics as a professor at Wilberforce University and the Tuskegee Institute. He was given full command of the  369th National Guard Infantry Regiment (better known as the Harlem Hellfighters of WWI fame) in 1938. 

During World War II, Davis Sr. headed a special unit charged with investigating discrimination and relieving the frustrations of segregated soldiers in the Army. The insights about African Americans’ exclusion from combat duty contained in his 1943 report helped to lay the foundation for the integration of the military by Truman in 1948.  Though he achieved more success in the Army than any African-American before him, he endured indignities and insults due only to the color of his skin; many Whites refused to salute him or acknowledge his rank even after his promotion to brigadier general in 1940 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Decorated with a Bronze Star and the Distinguished Service Medal, Brigadier General Davis retired on July 14, 1948, although his legacy would influence generations to come—including his son, Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.

The seeds of service were sown early in the Davis home.  The older Davis’ shared his experiences with systemic racism with his son, but also instilled in him a fierce determination to see it abolished.  And it would take all of the determination and perseverance Davis Jr. had to overcome the prejudice that would stand in his way throughout his career.

After receiving a nomination to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York (from the only Black congressman at the time), Davis would become the first Black cadet to be admitted since Reconstruction.  He was shunned by the other cadets—a punishment normally reserved for those who violate the Academy’s Honor Code.  “I was to be silenced solely because the cadets did not want blacks at West Point. Their only purpose was to freeze me out,” Davis wrote in his 1991 autobiography, Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.: American. “What they did not realize was that I was stubborn enough to put up with their treatment to reach the goal I had come to obtain.” 

While a cadet, Davis had dreams of flying, but he was rejected by the Army Air Corps because their flight training was only open to White men. Instead, after graduating 35th in a class of 276, he was commissioned as an infantry second lieutenant.  At the time, the Army had only two Black infantry officers—Davis and his father.  To keep the younger Davis from commanding White units, his first assignment was to the all-Black 24th Infantry Regiment at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Ironically, it was the elder Davis who would send his son’s military career soaring when, after Davis Sr. was promoted to brigadier general, he ordered the Air Corps to create a flying squadron for Black men. The younger Davis was called to Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama to attend flight school, and after receiving his pilot’s wings, led the group of African-American pilots that would come to be known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

Davis deployed to the Mediterranean Theater in 1943 in command of  the 99th Fighter Squadron, flying combat missions against enemy ships and ground targets, and providing support for Allied troop landings.  The 99th Fighter Squadron merged with the 332nd Fighter Group, and Davis assumed command and deployed to Italy in 1943.  The all-Black 332nd Fighter Group flew 15,550 sorties escorting heavy bombers deep into enemy territory in the summer of 1944, and gained a reputation for excellence.  Although some White officers maintained, “the Negro type has not proper reflexes to make a first-class fighter pilot,” the bravery and skill of the Tuskegee Airmen couldn’t be denied.  

“All the Blacks in the segregated forces operated like they had to prove they could fly an airplane when everyone believed they were too stupid,” Davis Jr. wrote in his autobiography.  Davis led dozens of missions in P-47 Thunderbolts and P-51 Mustangs. He received the Silver Star for a strafing run into Austria and the Distinguished Flying Cross for a bomber escort mission to Munich on June 9, 1944.

Davis would go on to serve in several commands, in Europe and the United States, before the end of the war. In 1947, Davis transferred to the newly created Air Force and was tapped by President Harry S. Truman to help draft the service’s desegregation plan.  Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. became the first Black general officer of the United States Air Force in May 1960.  He received his fourth star 28 years after he retired, in a 1998 White House ceremony that he attended along with fellow Tuskegee Airmen.  “He earned this honor a long time ago,” President Clinton said at that ceremony, calling Davis “a hero in war, a leader in peace, a pioneer for freedom, opportunity and basic human dignity.”

Like his father, Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.  met racism head-on and worked for greater equality throughout his military career.  That fact was recognized In 2019, when the U.S. Air Force Academy named its airfield in honor of Davis Jr., who died in 2002, saying he was “instrumental in driving this institution towards a much more diverse and a much more inclusive population, reducing attrition rates of minorities, and crucial in developing the plan to integrate women at the United States Air Force Academy.”  He was also honored in 2015, when Davis Jr.’s  name was chosen to be on a barracks at West Point.

“If you want to know what ‘Duty, Honor, Country’ look like, just read a little bit about Benjamin O. Davis Jr., and your jaw will drop because he is the epitome of what we want at a time when we didn’t know what ‘right’ looked like,” said Col. Ty Seidule, the head of West Point’s history department at the time. “So it’s our chance to acknowledge one of our greatest graduates.”

Both Benjamin O. Davis Sr. and Benjamin O. Davis Jr. led by example in a system that hadn’t previously afforded equal opportunities to minority servicemen and women.  The more than 54,000 Black officers in the military today stand on the shoulders of these and other trailblazers, and continue to combat the underrepresentation of minority officers in our armed forces.

Shirley Chisholm Paved the Way for Today’s Black Women Leaders

Shirley Chisholm Paved the Way for Today’s Black Women Leaders

Shirley Chisholm Paved the Way for Today’s Black Women Leaders

“Unbought and Unbossed”

Shirley Chisholm

“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” 

– Shirley Chisholm

Black History Month got a fitting kickoff this February when voter suppression activist and politician Stacey Abrams was announced as a nominee for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize.  This comes on the heels of Kamala Harris’ vice-presidential win and a record 26 Black women taking congressional seats.  After years of being shut out of politics, Black women are now transforming it.  But long before Stacey Abrams or Kamala Harris were influencing America’s political agenda, the very door these leaders would later walk through was being kicked down by an underappreciated but pivotal Black woman — Shirley Chisholm.

Chisholm made a career out of challenging the idea that only White men deserved a seat at the political table.  In 1968, Chisholm made history as the first Black woman to serve in the United States Congress.  Four years later, the feisty politician nicknamed “Fighting Shirley” again rocked the status quo by becoming the first Black woman from a major party to campaign for the country’s highest office—President of the United States.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1924, Chisholm learned about the value of hard work and the plight of the poor watching her immigrant parents struggle to provide for their four children during the Great Depression.  To make ends meet, her father, a factory worker from Guyana, and her mother, a seamstress from Barbados, made the difficult decision to send Chisholm and her sisters to live on their maternal grandmother’s farm in Barbados. Chisholm credited the excellent education she received there, along with the loving support from her grandmother, as critical to her future success.

After returning to the states, Chisholm attended high school in Brooklyn.  She was an excellent student, and upon graduating, was awarded tuition scholarships to several prestigious universities. Because she was unable to afford the room and board, the ever-practical Chisholm decided to live at home and attend Brooklyn College.  She was a standout there, both for her activism with campus organizations, and for her debating prowess.  It was during this time that Chisholm saw firsthand how Black women were barred from certain campus social clubs and  leadership roles. Looking back, Chisholm told an interviewer, “In college, I became angry.” After graduating cum laude in 1946, Chisholm would harness her anger to challenge an entire system.

YouTube video

National Archive: Clip from Accomplished Women: Shirley Chisholm (NAID 54173)

The newly-graduated teacher began her career at a daycare center, but as the saying goes, “the cream rises to the top,” and it wasn’t long before she was tapped to direct the entire operation. After she received a master’s degree from Columbia University in 1952, Chisholm was recruited to work as an educational consultant for New York City from 1959 to 1964. Working for the city gave her an inside look at local government, and at how few women were represented there.  She began volunteering with organizations that advocated for the rights of the poor and the disenfranchised—the League of Women Voters and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People among them.  She also became active in the Democratic Party, and in 1964, the woman who described herself as “literally and figuratively a dark horse,” was elected to the New York state legislature in a landslide victory; becoming only the second African-American woman to serve in Albany.

When a court-ordered redistricting created a windfall—over 80 percent of the registered voters in her reformed neighborhood district were Democrats—Chisholm saw her chance to make a bigger mark on the national stage. After defeating Black civil rights activist James Farmer for the seat, she became the first African American woman in the U.S. House of Representatives.  But Chisholm had no intention of just sitting quietly and observing, as freshmen congressmen were expected to do.  She introduced more than 50 pieces of legislation and brazenly rejected her assignment to the Agriculture Committee, forcing Democratic leaders to appoint her to the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, where she believed she could be of more assistance to her Brooklyn constituents. Chisholm would go on to serve in Congress until 1983, becoming a founding member of both the National Women’s Political Caucus and the National Black Caucus in 1971.

Shirley Chisholm 72 Zinn Education Project

But Chisholm’s most audacious act was yet to come when she threw her hat into the Democratic presidential primary ring in 1972, becoming the first Black candidate from a major party ever to campaign for the top spot.  The road wasn’t easy.  Chisholm faced backlash from both Black and White male leaders because she was a woman.  She was blocked from participating in televised debates, and after taking legal action, was allowed to make only one speech.  Undeterred, Chisholm ran on the campaign slogan, “Unbought and Unbossed,” attracting students, women and minorities to the “Chisholm Trail.”  Despite meager financial support—she paid for much of her campaign with her own credit card—Chisholm was able to win 152 delegate votes with her gutsy and honest style.

Although George McGovern would become the presidential nominee that year and face Richard Nixon, winning had never been Chisholm’s only goal.  Her real objective, in a race where one of the candidates was George Wallace of  “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” infamy, was to open the door for other Black and female candidates, and to make sure that minority voices were included in the national conversation.

Chisholm died in 2005, just three years before Barack Obama was sworn in as the first Black President of the United States.  She undoubtedly would have been thrilled to see that barrier finally crossed by a Black man, and perhaps even happier to know that our new Vice-President Kamala Harris, a multi-racial woman who is also the child of immigrants, considers herself simply “American.”  Because as Chisholm believed, “we must reject not only the stereotypes that others hold of us, but also the stereotypes that we hold of ourselves,” if we are to truly rise.


Background sources for this article include:  Unbought and Unbossed, Shirley Chisholm’s autobiography published by Take Root Media, 40th Edition,  2010; The Archives of the U.S. House of Representatives; and The National Museum of African American History and Culture at the Smithsonian



The Christmas and Hanukkah holidays also correspond with Kwanzaa, which is celebrated from Dec. 26- Jan. 1. Kwanzaa provides Black Americans with a special opportunity to connect back to our roots. And there are some startling parallels between what we see going on in our communities today and what was happening when Kwanzaa was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966. The Watts riots in Los Angeles in 1965 began when an African-American motorist was stopped by police for suspected drunk driving, but the situation quickly escalated into a fight between police and onlookers and over 6 days, left 1,000 injured and 34 dead, 23 of whom were shot by LAPD officers or National Guardsmen. The Black community was left reeling and raw from the ordeal, and sharply divided between shopkeepers with looted, burned out storefronts that wouldn’t be rebuilt and those who believed violent protests were the only remedy to the inequality and poverty that dominated their lives. Dr. Karenga, who was chairman of Pan-African Studies at California State University, was looking for a way to help heal and reunite the Black community, and created Kwanzaa the year after the riots. If you haven’t taken a look at the holiday, it might be time to do so—we are once again a community struggling with systemic racism and how best to eradicate it—and we could all use a little light in these darker winter days. 

The name Kwanzaa comes from matunda ya kwanza which means “first fruits” in Swahili. It isn’t religious, but instead honors tradition and is a celebration of unity and ancestry that is meant to deepen our understanding of our heritage. It’s also meant to be fun—seven days of poetry reading, African drums, dancing, storytelling, and a large traditional meal. On each of the seven nights, the family gathers and a child lights one of the candles on the kinara (candelabra),while one of the seven principles is emphasized. Dr. Karenga describes these principles on his Official Kwanzaa Website as:

Umoja, Unity
To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

Kujichagulia, Self-Determination
To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.

Ujima, Collective Work and Responsibility
To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.

Ujamaa, Cooperative Economics
To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.

Nia, Purpose
To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

Kuumba, Creativity
To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

Imani, Faith
To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

Char McCargo Bah

Char McCargo Bah

Char McCargo Bah

Photo of Char McCargo Bah by Steven Halperson of Tisara Photography

Char McCargo Bah

Char McCargo Bah is the CEO/Owner of FindingThingsforU, LLC. She retired from the Federal government as a Senior Policy Writer and Researcher. She has undergrad degrees in Urban Studies and African-American Studies. Char holds professional certificates in genealogy, publishing, investigation, research and paralegal. She has been a genealogist since 1981; appearing in numerous television interviews and documentaries.

She is currently working on the Virginia Theological Seminary’s Reparation Project and the Alexandria, Virginia Public Housing Project in locating descendants. She is a 2020 Virginia Humanities Scholar. Char has received numerous awards such as being nominated in 2019 for Who Who’s in America. She will appear in the 2020 Who Who’s in America publication. In 2014, she became Alexandria, Virginia’s Living Legend.

She is the author of two books and a short story in an anthology. Her most recent book was published in 2019, “Alexandria’s Freedmen’s Cemetery: A Legacy of Freedom.” Her second book published in 2013, “African Americans of Alexandria, VA: Beacons of Light in the Twentieth Century.” Her short story was published in 2006 in an anthology book, “Everyday Grace, Everyday Miracle: Living the Life You Were Born to Live, Angels In A Time of Need.” She is a freelance writer on local history for her column, “The Other Alexandria,” in the Alexandria Gazette Newspaper. She is a member of a dozen genealogical societies, which includes, National Genealogical Society, Virginia Genealogical Society, Fairfax Genealogical Society, Afro-American Historical Genealogical Society and numerous historical and writing societies and organizations.

Safely Savor a Socially-Distanced Thanksgiving

Safely Savor a Socially-Distanced Thanksgiving

Like most things in 2020, Thanksgiving is going to look a little different this year. Want to play it safe without canceling your gathering altogether?  Health experts from the CDC to Dr. Oz have recommendations—and we think these might come in handy for your holiday:

Size Matters

Experts suggest you keep your group under 10, but consider the size of your home in calculating how many people you can safely invite.  If there isn’t room for 10 people to sit 6 feet away from one another while eating, then 10 is too many for your home.

Have a Game Plan

Decide ahead of time what the house rules will be.  Will you enforce mask wearing when not eating? Will you require guests to take their temperature before coming in?  Let everyone know before arriving what your expectations are for the gathering.

Keep it Fresh

Keep fresh air circulating by opening windows in rooms where people congregate.  Even better in warmer climates—sit outside under porches or pop-up canopies.

Ban the Buffet

Going down a buffet line and using the same servingware puts everyone at higher risk.  Designate one person (wearing a mask) to do all of the serving, or pre-plate all of the food.

Think Throw-Away

Use disposable cloths in the bathroom rather than hand towels, and paper towels in place of cloth napkins. Use single-use condiments, such as salt and pepper packages. Have disposable masks on hand for before and after the meal for anyone who might have forgotten theirs.

Don’t Skip on Sanitizer

Put hand sanitizer out in several easy-to-access areas and remind guests to use it.  Better yet, give each guest their own personal travel hand sanitizer to use throughout the day.

Go Virtual

Skip safety concerns completely by celebrating online.   Zoom just announced that it will be lifting its regular 40-minute limit on Thanksgiving Day, so you won’t have to worry about getting cut off mid-toast.  Designate the family organizer to host and the natural comedian among you to “emcee.” And plan to keep it short while offering one activity everyone can participate in, like a centerpiece competition or showing off pie and chatting over dessert.

Want more tips for keeping your loved ones safe over the holidays? Click here to check out the CDC Holiday Guide.

Happy Thanksgiving

How are you handling the hijacked holiday?

We couldn’t help but wonder how our readers are handling this hijacked holiday.  Is the uptick in infections causing you to take your celebration entirely virtual?  Or have you found a creative way to incorporate some of your favorite Thanksgiving rituals and traditions into a safe celebration?

We want to hear from you!  Tell us what you are doing for Thanksgiving this year—what new traditions are you starting, what family favorites are you sticking with, and how are you adding safety to the holiday mix?

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    Horn in the Corn

    Horn in the Corn

    The Horn In The Corn

    Rev. Ronald V. Myers, Sr., M.D. Chairman, National Juneteenth Holiday Campaign playing the trumpet in a corn field

    Rev. Ronald V. “Doc” Myers, MD; 1933 – 2018; Chairman, National Juneteenth Holiday Campaign

    Juneteenth: America’s Second Independence Day

    Juneteenth, or the “19th of June,” recognizes June 19, 1865 in Galveston, TX when Union General Gordon Granger announced freedom for all slaves in the Southwest. Texas was the last of the states in rebellion after The Civil War to allow slavery. General Granger’s announcement came in the form of General Order #3, which he read from the steps of Ashton Villa in Galveston. 

    This occurred more than two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln and more than two months after the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865.  General Granger’s announcement was received with great joy and celebration by the newly freed slaves, as well as uncertainty on where to go or what to do with their newly acquired freedom. Few had scarecely dared to dream that this day would one day be a reality.

    Their journeys would take them to every corner of the United States and their lives would go in many different directions. However, the one thing that all took with them was the memory of the day they became free. Juneteenth became an annual celebration and thus was established as America’s Second Independence Day Celebration and the oldest African American holiday observance which continues to be celebrated today across the nation as the date that through out the United States freedom finally rang… for all!

    “I hope the US Congress will pass legislation to make Juneteenth Independence Day a National Day of observance, like Flag Day or Patriot Day … and that President Barack Obama, the first African-American President in US history, will also issue a Juneteenth Presidential Proclamation, so that Juneteenth will be officially placed on all calendars.” (Doc Myers)

    Forty-two states now recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday or special day of observance. YOU CAN HELP!

    • Visit to sign a petition.
    • Organize and attend Juneteenth rallies and celebrations.
    • Write and call your congressional leaders.

    Our Heritage Magazine joins with Doc Myers in this campaign. We hope you will join us too.

    The Rev. Ronald V. “Doc” Myers, Sr., M.D., physicians and medical missionary in the Mississippi Delta, was also a jazz musician, well-known for his “trumpeting” all over the country and anywhere he can bring the special “magic” of the Blues, especially to promote “June is Juneteenth African American Jazz Legacy Month.” –

    Family Reunions: A Summer Tradition

    Family Reunions: A Summer Tradition

    Family Reunions

    A Summer Tradition

    by Anita R. Paul, Contributing Writer

    Fagan Family Reunion

    (left to right) Tara Jean Fagan, Golden Fagan Jr, Jean B. Fagan, Gertrude Fagan Williams

    Summertime often conjures up thoughts of fun in the sun, outdoors activities, vacations, barbecues, or relaxation. Summer is also a time for reunions. What better time of year for families or classmates to reunite and reignite the bonds that keep family and friends at the core of our existence.

    Years ago, when families lived nearby, every day was a family reunion. There were dinners at grandma’s house, sleepovers at an auntie’s house, football at the cousin’s place, or perhaps yard work to be done at the home of an elderly relative. Nowadays, families are scattered across the country. Members have moved to different towns, faraway cities, distant states, and foreign countries. So, family reunions are a special occasion to catch up on what has happened over the years.

    In the midst of a family reunion, where old and young gather to strengthen kinship ties, one would be hard-pressed to accept or even understand the incessant debate about the deterioration of the black family. By their very nature, reunions promote progress and hope. This coming together is the perfect chance to share the good news – new jobs, the birth of children, new homes, marriages, anniversaries, graduations, trips taken, and the like.

    Fagan Family Reunion

    (left to right) Violet Fagan Hood, Audrey Fagan Brown, Eloise Fagan Boykins, and Ernestine Fagan Field

    More Than a Picnic

    In his 2002 research paper, “More Than a Picnic: African American Family Reunions,” Ione D. Vargus, chair of the Family Reunion Institute at Temple University, shares some of the important life aspects that reunions transmit:

    • Values
    • Identity
    • Love, concern, and belonging
    • Communication
    • Role models
    • Education
    • Passing on traditions

    In the same paper written for the Emory Center for Myth and Ritual in American Life, Vargus describes how African American family reunions have become structured and somewhat institutionalized. Through this research of 14 three-day reunions between South Carolina and Massachusetts, he noted the structural growth and sophistication of family reunions, as well as the positive economic outcomes that sometimes result from the gatherings. These include family clubs that meet regularly throughout the year; bylaws that set the date of the reunion, as well as certain requirements and prohibitions, such as political rallying; scholarship funds designed to assist family members who cannot afford to travel to the reunions or for elders living on a fixed income; family investment clubs to assist with reunion planning expenses; fundraising to help with funerals, births, and the like; networking to share the talents and skills of family members; and philanthropic efforts to support common interests such as historically black colleges.

    Fagan Family Reunion

    (standing left to right) Gertrure Fagan Williams, Golden Fagan JR; Emmaline Washinton (seated)

    National Scope

    The National Black Family Reunion, organized 25 years ago by the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), has become a nationwide institution. This two-day cultural event celebrates the strengths and traditional values of the African American family. Held in Washington, DC in September, the event attracted upwards of 250,000 people in 2010. Similar large-scale reunions have cropped up across the country under the NCNW’s guidance, including the Midwest Regional Black Family Reunion Celebration in Cincinnati, Ohio which attracts an audience of 100,000 and in Los Angeles, attracting upwards of 500,000.

    Without a doubt, reunions will continue to be a part of the heritage of African Americans. As Vargus notes, African American family reunions are controlled by the family, and as such represent an institution independent of government or other outside financial influences. Vargus notes, “The participants are willing; the goals are meaningful.”

    Fagan Family Reunion

    ( left to right) Jerry Fagan, Gertrude Fagan Williams, Eliouse Fagan Boykins, and Violet Fagan Hood

    Women’s Entrepreneurship Bootcamp Goes Virtual

    Women’s Entrepreneurship Bootcamp Goes Virtual

    Virtual format now available to women throughout the Workforce Solutions Alamo Area 

    San Antonio, Texas, July 7, 2020 – Workforce Solutions Alamo (WSA) is hosting a series of virtual entrepreneurship workshops for women in English and Spanish. This workshop, previously an in-person series, is now available virtually due to recent public health concerns. This is a half-day Women’s Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for women entrepreneurs and business owners. Participants will have the opportunity to work one-on-one with a UTSA Small Business Development Center advisor at no cost after the bootcamp, to receive guidance on the process of business startup and growth.  

    There is no fee for this webinar for eligible participants. Eligibility is as follows: 

    • Women 18 years of age and older 
    • Either U.S. citizens or non-citizens authorized to work in the U.S. 
    • Resident of one of the following counties: Atascosa, Bandera, Bexar, Comal, Frio, Gillespie, Guadalupe, Karnes, Kendall, Kerr, McMullen, Medina, Wilson

    Workforce Solutions Alamo recognizes the impact of women-owned businesses on the Alamo Area economy. “We are happy that with the new virtual format more women will be able to participate in this terrific opportunity. Women-owned businesses are a vital part of the Alamo Area economy, and our Business Service team is here to help all Alamo Area businesses succeed,” said Tiffany Harris, Workforce Solutions Alamo Business Engagement Manager.


    • Start Smart (9-11 a.m.), Marketing & Sales (11 a.m.-12 p.m.), Introduction to Social Media (12-1 p.m.)
    • This one-day bootcamp is offered various dates virtually from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.
    • English Dates: 8/3/2020 
    • Spanish Dates: 7/27/2020, 8/24/2020 

    For more information or to register, visit, email [email protected], or call (210) 458-2460. 

    This bootcamp series is in partnership with the UTSA Small Business Development Center Network, The Alamo Colleges Central Texas Technology Center, Costal Bend College, and the Hondo Economic Development Council, and is made possible through a grant from the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC). 

    Register at

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