February Reflections on Black History Month: by Chester Grundy

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Ace February 1, 2001
February Reflections More than just a ‘footnote’
By Chester Grundy

History, despite its wrenching pain

Cannot be unlived, and if faced

With courage, need not be lived again.

-Maya Angelou

February 2001 will mark the 75th observance of African American History Month. As activities are organized and initiated throughout the country, it is only proper that we pause to reflect on the historical legacy and the significance of African American History Month.

In 1926, under the talented leadership of Dr. Carter G. Woodson (a former student of Berea College), members of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History founded Negro History Week. It is critical to understand that this movement was a direct reaction to the racial trauma and hostility that characterized this period. It was an era sometimes referred to as the nadir or the low point in American race relations. Today it is difficult for us to comprehend or appreciate the depth of racial hatred which was so pervasive during this time. But one startling fact alone is revealing; from 1890 through 1925, an African American was lynched on the average of every two days. Within both the public and private sector, segregation was the law of the land. African Americans were relegated to the status of non-citizen and often defined as unwanted aliens.

Dr. Woodson observed that there was little difference in the attitude of the American academic or intellectual community of this period. The attitude expressed by John W. Burgess, an important figure in American scholarship and founder of Columbia University’s graduate school, was typical of the times: “The claim that there is nothing in the color of the skin is a great sophism. A black skin means membership in a race of men which has never created any civilization of any kind.”

Dr. Woodson and his enlightened community of activist scholars organized around the belief that ideas can and do have the power to change the world. They recognized that history is a potent and powerful tool. They also understood that the struggle for Black liberation had to first take place in the intellectual arena.

African American History Month (formerly Negro History Week), then, came about as a positive response to American racism and as an attempt to defend Black humanity.

It is unfortunate that, in recent times, the observance of African American History Month has, in the minds of many Americans, been dismissed as merely a gesture to “political correctness.” All too often, African American History is presented as a “footnote” to general (white) American history. Likewise, slavery, racism, and Jim Crow segregation become issues that our educational system continues to misinterpret, downplay, or simply ignore. The popular desire to deny, trivialize, or marginalize this experience does harm to every stratum of this society.

The truth is that the African American Experience is a story from which we can all learn. It is a story of pitfalls and advances. More importantly, it is a story that speaks to the essence of this nation’s great democratic ideal. Those of us who are willing to come to know the truth of this story, and identify the lies and distortions of the past, become a formidable force for an genuinely enlightened, democratic society. As the celebrated writer Walter Mosley puts it “All of America should look at the Black Experience as a method for all of us to overcome the weight placed on us by systems that would control us. The Black American Experience is a subject that is supremely American. It is the history of a centuries-long war in which one group of people strove for justice, for a fair share. Relegating Black history to an elective or a ghetto or a moment in the past holds us all back. Black history is a torch that can lead us out from the darkness.

BLACK HISTORY MONTH CALENDAR OF EVENTS, FEBRUARY 2001

Feb 1 Dr. Cheryl Townsend Gilkes discusses “Power Centers at the Margin: Race, Religion, and the African American Experience” at the UK Student Center, at 4pm.

Feb 5 Frank X Walker’s Affrilachia plays at the Danville High School as part of its regional tour. Danville High School is located on Lexington Ave, Danville; the show starts at 7pm.

Feb 5 Dr. Richard Turner gives his lecture titles, “Islam in the African-American Experience: Past, Present, and Future,” at the UK Student Center at 4pm.

Feb 6 The film series The Serpent and the Rainbow, moderated by Dr. Daniel Desormeaux, will be shown in room 106 of the Whitehall Classroom Building at UK, 5pm.

Feb 7 “Patriarchal Legacies in Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul On Ice,” a lecture by Aime Ellis, will be heard at 4pm in the Martin Luther King Jr. Cultural Center at the UK Student Center.

Feb 8 A Raisin in the Sun, the masterpiece of American drama by Lorraine Hansberry, is presented by the Actors’ Guild of Lexington (139 W Short St, 233-7330). Runs through March 11. Check the Ace List for times and prices.

Feb 8 The Central Library present a lecture on The African-American Experience in Lexington as a part of the An Evening with our History series. The speaker will be Professor Gerald L. Smith, the director of UK’s African-American Studies program. The lecture starts at 7pm, and is free.

Feb 10 The 3rd annual Apollo Talent Night, 6:30 p.m., Memorial Hall. Apollo is a student-sponsored, city-wide talent show open to the public. Tickets are $7 in advance and $10 at the door.

Feb 15 There’ll be a “Celebrating Our Diversity” Community Reading the the Carnegie Center for the Arts (251 W Second St, 254-4175). It starts at 6:30pm, and is free to the public.

Feb 16 Berea College hosts its 5th Annual Unity Banquet, with diversity awareness speaker Scott Horton. At the Commons at Berea College, 7pm, call 859/985-3148 for ticket info.

Feb 17 The 5th Annual Heart & Soul Fest, the African-American health program, runs 10am-1pm at Johnson Elementary School on Sixth St. Call, 278-1632 for info.

Feb 17 Local high school students will complete in the Black History Quiz Bowl, 10am, UK Student Center, Grand Ballroom. Sponsored by UK’s Black Student Union, Black Voices and Minorities in Agriculture Natural Resources and Related Sciences.

Feb 17 The Danilo Perez Trio plays at Memorial Hall, with their distinctive organic sound that combines elements of jazz, Latin American and European classical music. Admission: $8/13/17. Part of the 2000-2001 Spotlight Jazz Series co-sponsored by the Office of African-American Student Affairs.

Feb 17 The Robert H. Williams Cultural Center is presenting a lecture on the Civil War and the Underground Railroad by Gary Brown, at the Northside Branch Library, 3pm, for free. Call 255-5066 for information.

Feb 22 The life and legacy of Malcolm X will be examined through the engaging presentation “Malcolm X: The Truth and the Myth of his Legacy,” 4:30pm at the Martin Luther King Jr. Cultural Center in the Student Center, by scholar/archivist Omar Farooq. The presentation will combine video and rare taped interviews, as well as an exhibit of historic documents, photos and other rare items associated with the life and work of Malcolm X. Free Admission.

Feb 22 Bobby Seale, founder and former chairman of the Black Panther Party, will give a lecture at the Phelps-Stokes Chapel at Berea College. It starts at 3pm, call 859/985-3018 for info.

Feb 27 Facilitators Gegory Parks and Rynetta Davis will host a video showing of School Daze at 8pm, in Haggin Halll, on the UK campus.

Feb 28 “Pathways Through African-American History,” a Black History Extravaganza featuring song, dance, poetry and theater, including part of Frank X Walker’s Affrilachia. Meet and greet with performers and campus and community members at 5pm; the program starts at 7pm, in the Singletary Center. Free and open to the public.



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