Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
Retired Col. Dwayne Wagner, assistant professor in the Command and General Staff College’s Department of Joint, Interagency, and Multinational Operations, served as the keynote speaker of the Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth Black History Month observance Feb. 19 in Eisenhower Hall’s DePuy Auditorium, and said it was a responsibility he didn’t expect to have a second time.
Wagner was the keynote speaker at Fort Leavenworth’s Black History Month observance in February 1997 when he commanded of the 705th Military Police Battalion.
“Let me set the stage for the Black History Month celebration circa 1997, 24 years ago: We were at the Frontier Conference Center; the audience was diverse — military, civilian, young, old, and it was a packed house,” Wagner said. “The expectation was that I would give a presentation that was typical to Black History Month where we talked about inventions and we patted ourselves on the back for the journey of the negro, the African-American within our nation, and I think I left the audience stunned.”
With that in mind, Wagner began his presentation the same way he did in 1997.
“I look forward to the day when we do not celebrate a Black History Month,” Wagner said. “I look forward to the day when we recognize that Black history is American history and the journey of the African slave, the colored, the negro, the Black American, the African-American, the American is an American journey, and we have included that journey and its history in our school textbooks, movies, journals, TV shows, and families of all backgrounds sit at the dinner table and talk history that includes the journey of the Black family. That’s my mantra.
“Our citizens have made different journeys to hold the status of American citizen whether indigenous Native American or your people or peoples came to our country to work or your family immigrated. Regardless of where you came from, we’ve all taken a different journey,” he said.
“But only one people have made that journey in the cargo hold of large ships, stacked like cord wood, laying in their own feces and urine and shackled, and that is the African brought to North America and other places. The journey of the African slave is a tad different, and as we think about that journey, we may want to reflect on what’s going on in our nation today, because maybe if we study history it’ll help us better understand today and the future. History explains the past, it informs the present, it may influence the future, but only if we study it.”
Wagner said there are some weaknesses to history because it hasn’t always included everyone’s story or been valid and honest, but if people would embrace the idea of studying history, the present and future could be better understood.
Wagner shared his own family’s journey throughout history to demonstrate the growth in opportunities for African-Americans.
In the early 1900s, his paternal grandfather worked in the cotton fields in Texas.
As time went on, Wagner said doors slowly began to open following the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, but there was still struggle when he grew up.
Wagner said that while his family moved from duty station to duty station, his father would stop at a gas station and would sometimes get gas, but other times wouldn’t. Later Wagner said he found out that his father would only get gas at a filling station if the attendant would allow his family to use the restroom.
After his father left military service in 1971, Wagner said his family went from living in a community with a diverse, military background to all-Black, subsidized housing in Dallas. The high school he attended slowly shifted from a predominantly white high school to a predominantly Black high school because of busing opportunities.
Wagner said his father worked two jobs and that, along with federal government subsidy programs, he and his five siblings were able to attend college. But even education and more opportunity didn’t stop Wagner and his siblings from facing racism, he said.
“As successful as I have been, I still have those stories (of encountering racism),” Wagner said.
Wagner went on to tell the stories of other growth including the recognition of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion in the Circle of Firsts in November 2018 and the increase of more Black and female general officers in the Army, but he said the fight still is not over.
“I think 2020 was the advent or the start of a second Civil Rights Movement, a softer second Civil Rights Movement probably focused more on economics and social justice and here’s what I see,” Wagner said. “My grandfather’s generation was voiceless … my father’s generation was very patient as we went through the 1960s. …My generation was and is patient. … The upcoming and current generations are less patient. That’s why you are seeing these conversations about American history and Black history as we think about moving forward.”
With that, Wagner shared a photo of his twin grandchildren.
“I hope they never attend a Black History Month program in school or their community. I hope they never attend a Black History Month program because the nation, their community and their school district has integrated African-American history into the textbooks, the livelihoods and the everyday discussions that occur within families,” Wagner said. “I am hoping that when my grand-twins are in their 60s, they look at each other and they say, ‘Why did America have a Black History Month celebration?” because Black history is American history.
“My grand-twins are bi-racial. They are 50 percent Caucasian and 50 percent Black, but they’re 100 percent American,” he said. “That’s how we need to see them and each other.”
Because of COVID-19 precautions, in-person attendance was limited, but the event can be viewed on the CAC Facebook page.
The next cultural observance will be for Women’s History Month in March.