If they keep asking Dr. Hortense Hinton-Jackson to be the keynote speaker, the Orange County Branch NAACP may want to change the name of their annual get-together to the Freedom Fun banquet instead of the Freedom Fund banquet.
Dr. Hinton-Jackson can work a crowd. From her stirring remarks to her beautiful singing voice, as well as her sharp sense of humor, she commanded the attention of more than 230 participants Saturday night at the Doubletree Hotel in Charlottesville at the 34th annual event.
The theme of this year's event was "NAACP: Your Power, Your Decision, Vote" and provided Dr. Hinton-Jackson a retired lifetime educator, a teachable moment on the importance of education, voting and organization.
Education begets power, she said and with power comes achievement.
"We need to be self-determined. It's up to us to determine who we are. We've been colored, negroes, black and now African American. But it's up to me to say what I am, because that's what I am-self-determining. But to do that, people have got to become educated," she said.
The second element of her address focused on the importance of voting and participation. Too often, she lamented, folks apathetically suggest they "can't make a difference."
"It's unfortunate people don't understand their vote is the most powerful thing they have," she said.
Still, when voting rights remain under attack and legislators continue to create voting obstacles, citizens must remain ever vigilant in protecting their rights.
She offered a concise summary of the disturbing history of voting challenges for black Virginians, including poll taxes and literacy tests and noted that after President Lyndon Johnson passed the voting rights act in the late 1960s, that the number of black voters in Virginia tripled. "That's not ancient history," she reminded the audience.
What followed were the first black general assembly delegates, mayors, council men and women, governor and congressional representatives.
Currently, she noted, there are 13 African American members of the Virginia House of Delegates (out of 100) and five African Americans in the Virginia Senate (out of 40), representing 13 percent of the 140 elected officials. Virginia is approximately 20 percent African American and 65 percent non-Hispanic white with the remaining divided up among various other minorities.
From the post-Reconstruction south until the 1990s, Republicans never controlled the state legislatures of the southern states. Since then, the tide has shifted and only one state-Arkansas-has a Democratic-controlled legislature. "Were we asleep?" she asked the audience. "Did we get so focused on national elections that we forgot the state?"
The south is where the majority of African Americans are, she continued, but they're in the minority party in their state legislatures. "Less control equals less influence," she said.
"That's why you need to support your NAACP. They can be where you can't be. Organization is collective power and that's why the NAACP is so important."
She encouraged the chapter members to be proactive and shape agendas at the local, state and federal levels. She called for more minority representatives on local boards and commissions, imploring people not only to run for office but also support those who do.
"The Old Dominion has put us through a lot," she said, "but we can be part of a New Dominion."
Dr. Hinton-Jackson punctuated her remarks with a musical medley that concluded with much of the audience standing, clapping and joining her in the chorus of "I've Got a Feeling Everything's Gonna Be Alright."
Dr. Hinton-Jackson's remarks weren't the evening's only highlight. Earlier in the program, President Ruth Lewis Smith recognized three individuals for their outstanding contributions to the NAACP and the community.
Joan Graves was honored with the Lula Robinson Jones Award for her outstanding work, dedication and devotion to the chapter. Graves was unable to attend as she is participating in a mission project in Panama.
Former 30th District Delegate John J. "Butch" Davies was honored with the chapter's community service award for his continued support of the Orange Branch. Davies was also unable to attend the banquet.
The final award was presented to the Rev. Perry Moore, Annie Warren and Hazel Lewis of Orange Grove Baptist Church for their continued sponsorship and participation in the annual event.
This year's memorial candle was lit by Phyllis Highland in memory of life member Mrs. Esther Jubilee who worked to reactivate the Orange County Branch of the NAACP and helped initiate the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration locally-even before it was an official federal holiday.
The Orange Branch NAACP general membership meets the second Monday of each month at 7 p.m. in the community room at the Sedwick Building on Madison Road in Orange. For more information about membership, contact Smith at 854-5318.