City of Prattville celebrates Black History

Prattville Mayor Jim Byard Jr. presenting a proclamation to Col. Ernest Craigwell - Photo by Marc Parker

Prattville – Black History Month, founded in 1926 by United States historian Carter G. Woodson, was launched so that Americans could reflect on the history and contributions of African Americans.

On Friday night, a standing room only crowd filled the Doster Center for a night of entertainment and celebration of Black History Month.

The presentation of the program announcer was James Earl Corley, III, Head Drum Major for Auburn University Marching Band. The musical talents of Preston Frazier, who sang and played the keyboards, entertained guests. The night also included performances by B&S Mimes, Inc, Mt. Sinai Baptist Church, Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church, Spring Hill AME Zion Church, and the Father Son & Holy Ghost Church combined choir.

A special guest for the evening was Col. Ernest Craigwell, a member of the elite Tuskegee Airmen. Prattville Mayor Jim Byard Jr. honored Craigwell by announcing that by proclamation, Friday was officially named “Ernest Craigwell, Jr. Day,” and that the former fighter pilot could have the rest of the night to enjoy the honor.

“That means that he can drive any way he wants to – he can run red lights and he doesn’t have to obey the speed limit,” the mayor said, to laughter in the crowd. “Now, we generally give these out at night, so there won’t be many hours left to drive crazy.”

Crowd at Doster Center celebrating Black History - Photo by Marc Parker
Crowd at Doster Center celebrating Black History - Photo by Marc Parker

Byard then introduced the retired Air Force Colonel, who was wearing the Congressional Medal of Honor that was given to all living Tuskegee Airmen during a ceremony at the White House in 2007.

“Thank you, Mayor Byard … but it’s seven o’clock already … that means I only have five hours left tonight to drive the way I want to and run those stop signs,” said Craigwell, laughing.

The 84-year-old Craigwell, who has over 400 combat missions under his belt, and who fills his time now with recumbent cycling, fishing, and motivational public speaking, began to convey his message to the audience. He emphasized the fact that anyone could accomplish whatever they wanted to if they really wanted it and applied persistence.

“What I want you young people to realize is that you can do anything you want to do. We Tuskegee Airmen are living breathing examples of what can be done in the United States of America,” he said. “I know, from the experiences that I had … that if I could do it, you could do it.”

The Tuskegee Airmen were dedicated, determined young men who enlisted to become America’s first African American military airmen, at a time when there were many people who thought that black men lacked intelligence, skill, courage, and patriotism.

Valorie Lawson, co-anchor of the 6:00 PM and the 10:00PM WSFA News, was also a guest speaker at the event. The veteran journalist has more than 20 years experience in television and radio broadcasting.

At the podium, she stated that black history was so important to the founding of our nation that it should be celebrated every day.

Valorie Lawson, news anchor WSFA-TV - Photo by Marc Parker
Valorie Lawson, news anchor WSFA-TV - Photo by Marc Parker

“February only has 28 days … 29 if we’re lucky when it’s a Leap Year,” she said. “That’s just not enough time to celebrate Black History. We’ve elected our first black President – that fact alone is a reason to celebrate.”

Lawson related about her first introduction to Barack Obama, which was in 2004 at the Democratic National Convention.

“He had me on my feet …he is just such a great speaker,” Lawson continued. “I put him up there with Dr. King, Abernathy, Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou. Because he’s such a powerful speaker, it just kind of makes you want to do something.”

The news anchor also described another meeting with Obama when he was running for the Senate and stopped in Birmingham; she was able to interview him at the Civil Rights Institute there in the city and that was one of the more memorable times in her career.

In her spare time, Lawson enjoys speaking to civic groups, serving on various boards, and spending time with her husband Corey and their children.

Article by Melissa Parker

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