Every February, Black History Month prompts speeches, seminars, gatherings and concerts. But retired Baptist minister and longtime rights activist Ann Gray Byrd of Santa Rosa has marked the occasion in her own way.
Byrd is the author of "Glimpses: A History of African Americans in Santa Rosa," working in collaboration with former Press Democrat staff writer Sheri Graves.
There is a rich local history that often is overlooked, and a long list of African-Americans have made a local difference, Byrd said. Many of them are profiled in the book, which she self-published in 2011.
"If I had not written this book, all of that would be lost," she said. "I am who I am because of the people in this book."
One local history maker is Jesse Love, a survivor of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, who settled in Santa Rosa after the war and helped start one of the county's oldest black churches, Community Baptist. He died at age 91 last year.
Another example is Platt Williams, who co-founded the Sonoma County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1954, and still lives in Santa Rosa.
Byrd's family also is part of local black history. Her parents, Gilbert and Alice Gray, were Williams' partners in starting the local NAACP, and also were founders of Community Baptist Church.
Byrd has carried on the family tradition, serving as the president of the Sonoma County NAACP for the past four years. She also is a winner of the organization's Legacy Award.
One of nine children, Byrd came to Santa Rosa's South Park neighborhood with her family more than 60 years ago.
"Santa Rosa was very segregated in 1951," she said. "South Park was where black families lived."
Today Byrd, now 78, lives in northwest Santa Rosa with her son, the Rev. Curtis Byrd.
Originally conceived as Negro History Week in 1926, Black History Month was first celebrated in 1970 at Kent State University in Ohio.
"Basically, the idea was to incorporate the role that African-Americans have played in American history, and for them to be included in American history," Byrd said.
"We haven't gotten there yet, but we have been able to get some important information out," she added. "It's not in the textbooks yet."
Byrd is interested in the present as much as the past, and she's not content with just a month's worth of public conversation about race relations in Sonoma County.
"Our focus for this year is a series of conversations on race," she said, with topics ranging from justice and employment to health and equal representation.
On a personal level, Byrd wants to encourage people of all races to get to know each other better.
"If you don't know anybody, how can you have a relationship?" she asked. "It should be obvious. All of us need to do the work of change. I've decided part of my life purpose is to keep saying that."
You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at 521-5243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.