Shirley A. Jones

Everybody loves a birthday or anniversary celebration, right?  So, guess who is turning 40 years old in 2015? Blacks In Government (BIG) is! Yes, BIG was established in 1975 (incorporated in 1976) by a small group of Black federal employees at the Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) Department in Rockville, Md., to address a wide range of racially motivated issues faced on the job. And, just as Saturday Night Live (SNL) took a look back this weekend celebrating its 40 years, let me take you back to 1975 for a look at the United States from sports to music to politics to civil rights, and to the issues that precipitated BIG’s founding.

Since we love our sports in this area, let us start there. In 1975, Muhammad Ali defeated Joe Frazier in the Thriller in Manila. Arthur Ashe became the first Black man to win the men’s singles title at Wimbledon. The Baltimore football team won the division title as the Baltimore Colts not the Baltimore Ravens. But, it was the Pittsburgh Steelers who would defeat the Minnesota Vikings 16-6 in Super Bowl IX. And, that likely came as no surprise with a roster like Terry Bradshaw (QB), Franco Harris (RB), Lynn Swann (WR), and Mean Joe Greene (DT). There was also the first nationally televised women’s college basketball game with the University of Maryland women’s team being defeated 80-48 by Immaculata University. Last but not least, the 1975 NBA Championship featured the Golden State Warriors and the Washington Bullets (not yet Wizards). The series was notable as the first championship game or series in any of the major professional sports leagues to feature two African-American head coaches, with Al Attles coaching the Warriors and K.C. Jones coaching the Bullets. Bring out the brooms because the Warriors swept the Bullets.

From D.C. hand dancers to line dancers to free stylers, we love our music and 1975 did not disappoint. The Queen of Disco Donna Summers had the hot hit “Love to Love You, Baby.” The Isley Brothers were singing “Summer Breeze.” Bob Marley was singing “Stir It Up.” K.C. and the Sunshine Band sang “Get Down Tonight.” That was also the first year that we heard Smokey Robinson singing “Quiet Storm.” And Saturday Night Live premiered for the first time with George Carlin as the host and Billy Preston as the first musical guest singing his hit “Nothing from Nothing leaves Nothing.”

Of course, we cannot paint a full picture without talking about U.S. politics. In 1975, Marion Barry was serving his first term on the D.C. City Council after having served on the D.C. School Board and, of course, after having been the first chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) where he played a major role in the Civil Rights Movement of the ’60s. That same year, Ella Grasso of Connecticut became the first female governor who didn’t simply succeed her husband into the position. Harold Ford Sr. became the first African American to represent Tennessee in the U.S. Congress. Anwar Sadat was the first Egyptian president to visit the U.S.

There was some memorable stuff going on in 1975. But, it was not all good.

The Vietnam war ended in 1975 and the country was in a recession. The overall unemployment rate was 9.2 percent with stagnant job growth and advancement.

Some states were still resisting effective implementation of major civil rights laws like the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Although it is a little known fact, it was not until 1972 that Title VII of the 1964 Act, which we use to fight employment discrimination, became applicable to government agencies.

So, let us not be idealistic in thinking that our federal government was a model employer back then welcoming women and African Americans and giving them equal pay in 1975. It was against this backdrop that BIG was founded in1975, a time when no one thought we lived in a post-racial climate.

Thankfully, the world has changed a lot since 1975. However, it is imperative that we do not forget when and why we were founded. No, the fight isn’t exactly the same but there’s still a fight to ensure a level playing field for all government employees such that they all receive the training, quality assignments, promotions, bonuses, awards, and ascension into the senior executive service that their hard work deserves. That is what BIG was founded for and why BIG is still relevant 40 years later.

Shirley A. Jones Esq., is president of Blacks In Government’s Region XI Council.