By Ted Waddell
WOODBOURNE February 11, 2003 Frederick Douglass was born a slave near Easton, Maryland in 1817.
He escaped the shackles of slavery in 1838 and took the name Douglass from Sir Walter Scotts Lady of the Lake. In 1845, he published his Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.
Two years later, after English friends purchased his freedom, the great African-American abolitionist established the North Star in Rochester. During his 17-year tenure as editor, Douglass advocated abolition through political activism.
As the Civil War ravaged the nation amidst the destruction of slavery, Douglass urged African-Americans to join the Union cause. After Reconstruction, he held numerous government posts, passing away in 1895.
And in honor of his memory and ideals, on Sunday, February 9, the Sullivan County Chapter of the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History (ASALH) presented its 23rd Annual Frederick Douglass Breakfast at the Woodbourne Fire Departments social hall.
Since the first breakfast was held in 1981, the annual gathering has served as a vehicle to honor the contributions of African-Americans from various walks of life who have led interesting and worthwhile lives.
The first Frederick Douglass Award was presented in 1983 to Erskine Hawkins, a member of the staff of the Concord Hotel whose career as a musician paralleled the vibrant history of American jazz.
In subsequent years, recipients of the prestigious award have included the Rev. Martha Finn, Samuel, Ruth and Clifford Harden, Richard Perry, Carl Berry Sr., Mary Bryant Dupree, Josephine Victoria Finn, Prof. Joseph Shambley, George Billups Jr., Bertha Williams, John Walter, Horace O. McKenny, Bazeley Perry, Gladys Farrell Seals, Genetha Armstrong, Gladys Finn Walker, Myra B. Young Armstead, Ida Mae Mitchell, Rev. James Matthews and Mabel Wrenn.
Pastor Mervin Armstead, spiritual leader of Bethlehem Temple in Monticello for the last 14 years, was named the 2003 Frederick Douglass Award honoree.
He was born in Birmingham, Alabama on July 4, 1936. At the age of 14, the future pastor left his native state for Lake Butler, Florida, where he attended Shaw Gross High School.
In 1955, the 19-year-old moved to Monticello where he joined Bethlehem Temple Church, founded by the late Pastor Martha Finn. Three years later, he gave his life to the Lord.
In his early 20s, Pastor Armstead was called to the ministry, as he moved up through the ranks of the church: janitor, Sunday School teacher, Sunday School superintendent, ordained deacon, minister and elder.
In 1985, he was chosen by Finn to be her assistant. When Pastor Finns work on earth was finished in 1988, he was officially installed as pastor of Bethlehem Temple Church on August 28 by the late Bishop Robert L. Little.
Since 1987, the ASALH has also recognized three graduates of Sullivan County high schools for embarking on useful careers, making an impact on the local community and serving as role models for young people who are now students in area high schools.
Edward Carrington was born in Yonkers to Eddie L. Carrington and the late Lorraine O. Carrington on November 12, 1974. The family moved to Liberty when he was a few months old.
Carrington graduated from Liberty High School in 1992. After high school, he attended SUNY Albany, where he earned a degree in English with a minor in French. Before graduating in 1998, he studied in Paris for a semester and was accepted into the Education National Honor Society.
He completed his masters degree in 2000. Carrington works for Bally Total Fitness in NYC and has been featured in several television specials and fitness magazines.
Mary Moe Patton-McNeil is the sixth of ten children born in Greenville, Alabama to the late Ferrie and Ellie Patton Sr. The family moved to Hurleyville when she was a youngster.
Patton-McNeil graduated from Fallsburg High School, and in 1972 she was tabbed as the schools first Female Athlete of the Year. Upon graduating Fallsburg with honors, she attended SUNY Cortland, earning a degree in education.
After college, Patton-McNeil returned to her community, where she taught and coached at her high school alma mater, as well as coaching at the local community college.
For the past 21 years, she has been employed by the NYS Office of Mental Health. Patton-McNeil encourages all youth to reach for their dreams and to pursue their education.
Roland Paramore was born to Minnie and Robert Paramore Sr. on September 27, 1966. He graduated from Monticello High School in 1984, and in September he left home to join the United States Air Force.
During his 18 1/2-year career serving his country in uniform, Paramore has traveled to 47 of the 50 states, six of the seven continents and traveled to numerous countries within those continents.
Paramore is currently stationed at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. He is assigned to the most prestigious unit in the U.S. military, the Presidential Airlift Group, transporting the nations leader around the globe.
* * *
Josephine Victoria Finn served as mistress of ceremonies.
Asked what Black History Month means to her, she replied, Its what we should be doing all year honoring those who come from here, letting them know we care and are proud of their accomplishments. . . . Theyre making black history.
It doesnt take famous people to make black history, added Finn. It takes ordinary people to do extraordinary things.
Oliver King, a local actor and playwright, took on the role of Frederick Douglass to recite a speech from July 4, 1852 in the Great Hall of Rochester.
This is the birthday of your national independence and your political freedom, said King in the voice of the famous African-American abolitionist. Oppression makes a wise man mad.
Asked what Black History Month means to her, honoree Patton-McNeil said, Black history is also American history [because] were all one.
They should teach it throughout the year, she added. Its not just a one-month thing. We need to know where we came from in order to know where were going.
Several of Patton-McNeils relatives and close friends attended the annual breakfast, including Cassandra and Oscar Patton and their 8-year-old daughter Mariah.
Its a joyful thing in the morning for us, said Oscar Patton.
It means all races coming together and joining as one, added Cassandra.
Mariah Pattons take on the importance of celebrating Black History Month?
Its freedom, replied the 8-year-old.