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- Photo of a grey colored bridge as the background. Headline: 2016 NATIONAL AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY MONTH. Subhead: HALLOWED GROUND.

As we begin the annual celebration of African American History Month, we can all be proud of the diversity of our Federal workforce and encourage all Americans to celebrate the leaders who risked their lives to fight for equality for all Americans, regardless of race.

African American leaders have had a significant impact on this country by serving in the Federal Government. From former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to President Obama, to name just a few, these inspiring men and women have changed the course of American history by breaking down racial barriers as they dedicated their lives to public service.

The theme for this year’s African American History Month, “Hallowed Grounds – Sites of African American Memories,” calls on us to remember the landmark locations across the country where African Americans struggled for freedom and justice. These historic sites include stops along the Underground Railroad, Frederick Douglass’ home in Washington, D.C., and the famous Beale Street in Memphis, located just six blocks from where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, now home to the National Civil Rights Museum.

In his annual Proclamation commemorating National African American History Month, the President encourages us by saying: “As we mark the 40th year of National African American History Month, let us reflect on the sacrifices and contributions made by generations of African Americans, and let us resolve to continue our march toward a day when every person knows the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

One of OPM’s most important missions is to help agencies across government recruit, hire, and retain a dedicated workforce that draws on the skills, character, and experiences of people of all communities in this great nation. Nearly 18 percent of the Federal Workforce is African American. But we know that African Americans are underrepresented in leadership roles and OPM is working with a number of employee and support groups on an Senior Executive Service development program to address this gap.

At OPM, one of the ways we will commemorate this important month will be by hearing from civil rights activist Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, one of our nation’s trailblazer Freedom Riders. In 1961, Mulholland was a 19-year-old Duke University student who had arrived in Jackson, Miss. as part of the Mississippi Freedom Ride. During the course of that summer, African American and white civil rights activists coordinated bus trips throughout the South to protest segregation in bus terminals.

The group gained worldwide attention when blacks used “whites-only” restrooms and lunch counters, a challenge to the Jim Crow laws that had been in place since the late 1870’s. They were met with violent protestors, and in some cases, such as Mulholland’s, they were arrested for their heroic actions. But due to their determination and dedication to right a wrong, by late that summer, segregation in bus and train stations was prohibited.

To learn more about Mulholland’s incredible story and her fellow Freedom Riders, check out the American Experience: Freedom Riders documentary from PBS.

Throughout the month of February and during the rest of the year, I hope all of us will take some time to reflect on those who sacrificed so much to create a more inclusive and supportive country for us all.


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