UPPER MARLBORO, MD - This morning, Congressman Steny H. Hoyer (MD-05) attended the 38th annual Black History Month Breakfast, the theme of which was "Black Migration." He was joined by keynote speaker Congressman Hakeem Jeffries (NY-08), Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus; Congressman Anthony Brown (MD-04); and hundreds of Fifth District residents and community leaders. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery.
“Good morning, and thank you Ivana for that warm introduction and for serving as our emcee today. And thank you, Congressman Brown, for being my partner in hosting the 38th annual Black History Month breakfast, a tradition that has grown tremendously and to which I look forward every year with great anticipation.
“Each year’s Black History Month theme is deeply meaningful, and this one is very special indeed. Our 2019 theme ‘black migrations’ recalls the arrival of the first people of African descent to what is now the United States. We cannot forget the tragedy of those who were brought to Jamestown, Virginia, in chains – and the generations of suffering caused by the forced migration of Africans and their enslavement along with their descendants on this continent. That is the first migration we commemorate this year, one that was not one of choice.
“But the focus of our celebrations in 2019 is on another migration, this time one made mostly of choice: the great migration of the early twentieth century. Last year, we remembered the courageous African-Americans who served in the U.S. and French militaries during the First World War, like the Harlem Hell-Fighters and the 450 African-American soldiers from Prince George’s County.
“When many of them returned home, they had seen a different world full of opportunities. So they went on the move. Some returned to France, where Paris became an expatriate enclave of African-American art and literature. Many came north to the cities from which they had earlier embarked to the theater of war. They were joined by parents and siblings, spouses and children, and neighbors. Soon, cities in the North, Midwest, and West became centers of African-American culture and entrepreneurship.
“This period was epitomized by the Harlem Renaissance. Writers and thinkers like James Weldon Johnson and Zora Neale Hurston were redefining how African-Americans viewed their own history and role in American life. Artists such as Duke Ellington, Aaron Douglas, and Josephine Baker helped bring black culture to wider audiences. And trailblazers like Bessie Coleman and A. Philip Randolph were breaking down barriers and pushing against the limits of segregation and inequality.
“It was an era of great migration and great change. African Americans were on the move – not only opening new doors but opening minds. But all of these things were happening in an age where legal equality and full freedom were denied.
“One of the young minds influenced by this age of migration and transformation was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Born ninety years ago into an era where the children and grandchildren of the last enslaved Americans were reshaping our country’s culture, Dr. King saw the injustices he would later give his life to correct and learned from giants upon whose shoulders he would stand.
“Today, in 2019, we stand on Dr. King’s shoulders. But let us never forget the men and women who made his life and his struggle possible. As we make our way through a time of cultural and political transformation, I hope that we can look for inspiration to the great African-American leaders and cultural contributors of the early twentieth century’s great migration as we seek to shape the twenty-first century as an age of equality, diversity, and progress.
“Because African-Americans are again on the move as drivers of twenty-first century American culture and politics. This includes two of the major declared Democratic candidates for president and the new Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, whom I am about to introduce.
“Nine new African-American freshman Members of Congress helped Democrats win a new majority in November that is already putting the House back to work on issues like gun safety, raising wages, protecting the Affordable Care Act, and expanding access to voting. Among the fifty-two members of the largest Congressional Black Caucus in our history are five African-American Committee Chairs.
“They are leading powerful committees conducting oversight of the Trump Administration and advancing legislation to expand opportunity, promote equal justice, and make our communities safer for all. They are: Chairman Bobby Scott of the Education and Labor Committee; Chairwoman Maxine Waters of the Financial Services Committee; Chairman Bennie Thompson of the Homeland Security Committee; Chairman Elijah Cummings of the Oversight and Reform Committee; and Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee.
“House Democrats are drawing on these outstanding African-American leaders to help us chart a way forward. And the House Democratic Caucus as a whole is now being led by a dynamic former Whip of the Congressional Black Caucus, the second-ever African-American Congressman to serve in this important and distinguished role. I’m pleased to welcome him here today.
“Congressman Hakeem Jeffries represents the Eighth District of New York, which covers parts of Brooklyn and Queens. He was first elected to Congress in 2012 after five years in the New York State Assembly and as an attorney who served as President of the organization Black Attorneys for Progress. Congressman Jeffries served as Co-Chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee during the last Congress and has now been chosen by his colleagues to lead the House Democratic Caucus at a critical time, when we are newly returned to the House majority. He has been a passionate fighter for civil rights and voting rights, leading the charge to ban sales or displays of the confederate flag at national parks, which was sadly defeated by Republicans.
“He led members of the Congressional Black Caucus in a ‘hands up, don’t shoot’ protest on the Floor of the House in 2014. And Congressman Jeffries went to the Floor to denounce vociferously the Supreme Court’s weakening of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. Along with his colleagues, he has been a leader in efforts to raise wages, create jobs, and make opportunities like health care and higher education more accessible to all Americans.
“Some have called Hakeem Jeffries the ‘Barack Obama of Brooklyn,’ and not only because they share the same birthday. He’s an rising star for Democrats with a bright future in our party and our national politics. He’s on the move.
“Now, I am pleased to welcome him into the ranks of President Obama, Congressman John Lewis, Donna Brazile, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and others who have been our keynote speakers over the years. Please join me in welcoming my friend and our new Democratic Caucus Chair, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries.”