A Medal of Honor recipient. A prominent official in the Reagan administration. A social activist who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi.

A world-renowned musician, barrier-breaking attorney, "radiant" reverend, influential educators and accomplished athletes.

Downtown Paducah did indeed receive a significant upgrade and facelift this month, but it had nothing to do with a Tax Increment Finance district, new boutique hotel or more convenient parking.

Rather, Paducah was elevated, and will continue to be throughout February, by esteemed figures from the city's past.

Earlier this month, the West Kentucky Community and Technical College Student Art & Design Club unveiled the portrait installation "Defining Paducah: Honoring the Outstanding Legacy of Local African Americans" in the storefront at 203 Broadway. The installation features portraits of blacks from the city's past and two landmarks of black heritage.

Represented in the portraits are: Rev. Moses Burks, C.W. Merriweather, Rev. G.W. Dupee, Robert L. Harriford, Sr., George Wilson, Danielle Carruthers, Dr. William Stuart Nelson, B.W. Browne, Leo Hunter, Fate Marable, Herbert Glenn, Sr., Ersa Hines Poston, West Kentucky Industrial College and Dawson Drug Store.

The editorial board commends the college's art and design club for its skills and artisanship in creating such vibrant, enriching and impressive work. We believe the installation beautifully pulls off the feat of lifting downtown's aesthetics while being socially relevant and showcasing diversity at a time when it's critically necessary.

The new installation ties in with Black History Month. Observed annually since roughly 1970, Black History Month celebrates the accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.

Rightly so.

Black history, the editorial board believes, is American history.

The accomplishments of historical figures like Dr. King, Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman are every bit as important to our country as those of George Washington, Ben Franklin and Abraham Lincoln, and should be taught as frequently in our schools and recognized by the general public as often.

It's regrettable then that black history -- American history -- is limited to a single month of the year, reverberations of an archaic time when division was acceptable. Surely today, we should be socially enlightened enough to require more.

The editorial board encourages the public to visit the downtown installation, appreciate the artwork, and read the history of figures who helped shape Paducah.

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