Full Text of Black History Month Speech at the Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System

Our Publisher, Tricia Teague, was invited to give a speech for Black History Month at the Danville Veterans Affairs location. The theme of the Black History Program was, "At the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality: The Emancipation Proclamation and March on Washington." The text of that speech is below:


I am honored to stand here to celebrate black history month today, particularly in 2013 because it’s been 150 years since the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863. In addition to that, this August will be the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington. So I am honored that I am even able to stand here before you today because I know I stand here on the backs of our ancestors that were freed from slavery 150 years ago, and I stand here because of our ancestors who were still fighting for their freedom, for their FULL freedom, for the freedom to be equal, 100 years later. And I stand on the backs of every soldier that fought to protect the freedoms this great nation was founded on.

But I am even more honored to stand here today because I also stand on the backs of my personal ancestors. I stand on the back of my paternal grandfather, Luther Teague Sr. born in Paris, Tennessee in 1899, just 36 years after the Emancipation Proclamation. He was one of the Teague/Thorpe children. The Teagues and the Thorpes were descendants of the same enslaved parents but had been sold to separate masters and therefore given separate last names. I don't know much detail about them, but I know they were aware of who they were, and that there has been a family relationship through the years. So I can only presume they reunited themselves after being emancipated. My grandfather left that large clan and went north, to the Chicago area, and raised six sons, including my father, by farming a small plot of land and raising hogs. 

I stand on the back of my maternal great-grandfather, Ike Runnels, a black man married to a Choctaw Indian woman, who stopped a mob of men at his door with his shotgun when they wanted to lynch his teenage son, my great uncle Bob, because he was seen with a white woman. Uncle Bob was sent away that night, hopping a train 

from Texas to Chicago, to escape an unfortunate demise. His younger brother, my grandfather, also named Ike, was born in 1905 in New Boston, Texas, just 42 years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Ike, or Papa as I used to call him, followed his brother to Chicago, hopping a train at the tender age of 14. Both my grandfathers were only one or two generations from slavery. They migrated north, with dreams of freedom, with dreams for my parents, and dreams for me. I’m certain their dreams for their future generations were the same as the dream Dr. King spoke about.

It took 101 years from the emancipation proclamation to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, illegal to discriminate against anyone simply because of race. But looking at what we’ve accomplished since Martin delivered his dream speech. Some 50 years after Dr. King dreamed that his children, and all our children, would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character, there is a black man, in a second term, in the White House.

With all that’s been accomplished, with all that has been done, some might think the work is done. Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we are actually free at last. We’re free, right? Let’s just all go home then. There’s nothing to talk about, because we’re free. Or are we?

In 1963, Dr. King said, and I want you to repeat this with me…“Now is the time to make justice a reality for ALL God’s Children.” Dr. King said all people in this country had been given a promissory note, and in 1963 they marched to cash a check, the check that guaranteed the unalienable rights to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These words, which Dr. King quoted from the declaration of independence, follow the first truth our forefathers wrote, which supposedly was self evident, that all men are created equal. Yet in 1963, 100 years after being freed from slavery, all men weren’t being treated as equal.


Now, in 2013, nearly 50 years after the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 made it illegal for people to be treated differently because of race, sex, or religion, it’s time to evaluate whether or not we’re truly free, whether or not we truly have life, liberty, and happiness. Whether or not all men are truly being treated as equally as God created them to be. We must evaluate whether or not justice is actually reality for all God’s children.

Now before I get into whether or not we’re free, let’s first talk about the process of becoming free. In this country the slave’s freedom was mandated by the emancipation proclamation. Yes it went into effect 150 years ago, January 1, 1863. But as I was reading up on it, in preparation for this speech, there are some interesting details to note. The most important detail is that most slaves were not immediately freed. It only impacted the Confederate states, and since we were still in the Civil War, it didn’t go into effect until the Union controlled those states. As far as slave owners in the confederate states were concerned, Abraham Lincoln was NOT their president. Do you think the slave masters, after hearing the news of this proclamation, marched down to the slave quarters, burst open the door, and said, you’re free to go now? NO!

There is another date that is even more pivotal in the history of freeing the slaves. June 19, 1865. It marked the date the slaves were told they were free. The Civil War went on for two more years after the emancipation proclamation freed the slaves. On June 19, 1865, 41 days after the Civil War was declared over and 900 days after the emancipation proclamation went to effect, the word of freedom made it to Texas. Texas, the place where my great grandparents were married, and where my grandfather was born. Our ancestors, and specifically my great great grandparents, were free for 900 days and didn’t even know it! When you think about it, it’s awful! Yet there’s something even worse. What’s worse than being free and not even knowing it? Being enslaved and not even aware.

Today I assert to you that although you are free, free to walk around, free to live where you want, free to eat where you want, free to marry who you want, and free to work where you want. You’re still enslaved.

Modern day slavery doesn’t require picking cotton, and it’s not based on race. Modern day oppression is not from a white man, nor is it from a black man, a Hispanic man, or a person of any other nationality. In fact, the modern day oppressor is gray. Gray, you say? I know what you’re thinking, Tricia, here are no gray people. No, there are not. But all people have gray matter, in the brain. The modern day oppressor is you, it’s me, because modern day slavery is in the mind. And, in 2013, we need to free our minds.

Why do we need to free our minds, because it is the only way, the only true way, for there to be liberty and justice for all. It is the only way, and I’ll quote Dr. King again, to make justice a reality for ALL God’s children.

The oppression of physical bondage may be over, but the oppression of the mind is not, the mindset of the enslaved is not. The oppression of poverty is not over. The oppression of hopelessness is not over. Therefore the injustices of the world, the injustices in this country, are not yet defeated.

Today we live in a world where violence seems to be out of control, crime for no reason, whether it be gang crime or people who have simply snapped. Today we live in a world where the number of people in poverty is increasing, at last count it was 46.2 million people in the United States below the poverty line. Today we live in a world where living paycheck to paycheck is the norm, and when people lose their jobs, they often are on the brink of losing their homes and everything they’ve worked so hard for. Today we live in a world where corporate greed is rampant, where poor people, where people who can least afford it pay the most. Today we live in a world where programs, particularly some government programs, are failing the people they’re supposed to help.

And it isn’t just a national problem, it is a local problem. Every problem that is happening on a national level is happening here too. The poverty level here, in 61832, is more than 27%. So look to the person to your left, look at the person to your right, and look at the person sitting either in front of or behind you. If you count yourself, that’s four people. One of the 4 of you, one of you lives below the poverty line, here, in Danville. Here in Danville, houses aren’t JUST being foreclosed on here, they’re being left empty, and falling apart. I drove by a house just the other day, it had been taken back by the city or county because it had one of those yellow, white, and black auction signs on it. It was empty, boarded up, but it was literally splitting in half. Homelessness is up here. Gun violence is occurring here on a regular basis. And everybody is looking around wondering when is it going to stop. Everybody is thinking it is somebody else’s problem until they’re daughter or their son becomes the next Hadiya Pendelton, an innocent bystander hit by a stray bullet, or the next victim of a senseless rampage like Columbine, Northern Illinois, Virginia Tech, Arizona, the batman movie in Colorado, or those poor babies in Connecticut.

Our problem is that we have enslaved ourselves to the dream. We have enslaved ourselves to the idea that the problems in the world are somebody else’s problems to solve. We have enslaved ourselves to the thought that God gave us the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness so that we can pursue the brass ring. So that we can have a family with 2.5 kids, a car, a house with a picket fence, and a dog. While we were all waiting on a leader, the next Dr. King, somebody else to make a difference, the gap was getting wider. While the rich were getting, richer, the poor were getting poorer and the middle class, the rest of us, were getting comfortable, being lulled to sleep. But it is time for us to wake up.

It is time, in 2013 that we emancipate ourselves and our brethren. When Dr. King was killed in 1968 he was working on the plight of the poor. The poor people’s campaign was an effort to bring economic justice to the poor, of all races. After his death the campaign went forward. There were demands for an economic bill of rights, they were presented to Congress, but nothing changed.  So you see, the dream, the fullness of Dr. King’s dream, justice for ALL God’s children, will not be realized until the yoke of oppression is taken off the necks of the poor too. That’s why Dr. King was in Memphis in the first place, not because the sanitation workers were black, but because they were poor, working in dangerous conditions that actually killed and maimed some of them, yet being paid an unlivable wage. The Occupy movement, the 99% movement, the people who camped out for days on Wall Street in New York and in other major cities, it demanded an economic change, it wanted an end to the status quo.


25 years after Dr. King died, it still hasn’t come yet. Why? Because we’re still looking for someone else to solve the world’s problems, our problems. Here’s my answer, instead of looking for somebody to solve the world’s problems, be the somebody who solves someone’s problem. Look at those same 3 people again, to your left, to your right, and that person in front of or behind you. If one of the four of you is poor, why can’t the 3 of you who are doing ok work together to help the one that is struggling? The answer is, you can. And why should you, because there but for the grace of God go you! Because most of us who are in the middle class now are only one or two generations removed from being the working class poor, or in poverty ourselves.

First, in order to be the somebody, you must emancipate yourselves. We must emancipate ourselves from the idea that our only concern is ourselves and our immediate family. We must free ourselves from the idea that we’re not the somebody we’re looking for. Repeat this with me. I am, somebody, and I have the power, to solve problems. You have the power to solve your own problems, and your neighbor’s problems as well.

It took me a long time, but I finally realized, after a restructuring emancipated me from my corporate job, that the only person that was keeping me from doing great things was me. Sure people try to stop you, sure people get in your way. I am a black, and I am a woman, in the United States of America. Racism isn’t dead, it’s just illegal. But I have the ability, the unalienable right, to push past those people who might try to hold me back, to fight for what God put in me to do. I finally realized the doors were always open, the opportunities were always there for me. I just didn’t walk through. But I’m here now. And once I emancipated my own mind, I also realized I have a responsibility to help other people get free too, to be a Harriet Tubman, so to speak, of 2013.

I liberated myself. And if I can do it you can do too. Because all the opportunities that were always there for me are there for you too. So in the same way I just told you about my revelation, you can do that for your neighbor.

We must emancipate ourselves from the idea that my neighbor’s problems are not my problems. IF we who have hope, outnumber the hopeless, then we should be able to give hope where there is none. We must emancipate ourselves from the idea that we were created to get up in the morning, go to work, come home, feed the family, go to sleep, and then do the same routine again the next day.

If we free ourselves from the idea that the world revolves around us, then we free ourselves to make a difference in someone else’s life. We give ourselves the opportunity to show our brother that the American dream is theirs to take. We free ourselves to show our neighbor, and our neighbor’s children, you too can get ahead. Here’s how I did it. IF I can do it you can too. Once we free ourselves from a selfish mentality, we become selfless and we’re able to show our neighbor how to get free their limiting beliefs and the mindsets that hold them back. We can help them see beyond hopelessness and poverty.

In closing, we have to ask ourselves, this one question. Are we going to be part of the solution, or are we going to be part of the problem? If we see a problem, and do nothing, then we didn’t just ignore it, we actually made it worse. But if we see a problem, and we take an action, we may actually make an impact. You may not be able to help many. You may only be able to help one. But if each one of us, just helped one other, then together we may actually change the world.