Reflections on Black History Month by Congresswoman Val Demings
115 years ago, the first Black congressman from Florida, Josiah Walls, passed away.
Congressman Josiah Walls was born into slavery and faced down former slave owners and the Klan to win his election not once, not twice, but three times. This Black History Month, as I fight in Congress to protect the rule of law and pass important legislation, I have Congressman Walls on my mind.
Tom, I am a descendant of slaves – enslaved people who dreamed and prayed that one day I would make it. I grew up poor – but I was the first in my family to go to college. I started out as a patrol officer working the midnight shift, but I had the awesome opportunity of working my way up through the ranks.
And I did make it: I’ve been blessed to serve for nearly 30 years in law enforcement and now three years in the House of Representatives. I enforced the laws, and now, I write the laws.
And like Congressman Walls, I’ve used that privilege to fight for education, veterans and issues that matter most to everyday Floridians. Like Congressman Walls, I understand our country’s complicated history – and still, each day I go to work and put my faith in the Constitution.
So hear me when I say this: Only in America can a little Black girl, the daughter of a maid and a janitor, growing up in the South in the ’60s, have such an amazing opportunity.
At this critical moment in our nation's history, I know that the challenges can feel difficult. And that 115 years after Congressman Josiah Walls' remarkable life, it can feel troubling to see that the battles he fought have not yet been won.
But you know why I believe in the promise of America? Because I’ve seen it. My life is the American dream realized. And though this is a challenging time for our nation, I’m proud to follow in the footsteps of leaders like Congressman Josiah Walls this Black History Month as I fight for Florida and to keep the American dream alive.
Congresswoman Val Demings