The contributions and accomplishments of black Americans were celebrated at Eastern from Feb. 22 through Feb. 27 in recognition of Black History Month. What is now known as Black History Month initially started as “Negro History Week” with the purpose of educating Americans on the struggles and the importance of black history. Although black people have been in the United States since colonial times, it wasn’t until the 20th century that they first appeared in history books. In 1926, Dr. Carter G. Woodson founded “Negro History Week” because he was deeply troubled by how seldom black history was noted and how, when it was, blacks were mentioned in a purely negative light. Woodson, whose parents were both slaves, attained a Ph. D. from Harvard University despite receiving no education until he was 20 years old. Woodson made many contributions to American literature and worked toward a day when his countrymen would respect the hard work and achievements that black people contributed to this country.
Woodson chose the second week of February to be “Negro History Week” because it contains the birthdays of both Frederick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln, two men who are widely recognized for their impact on black history.
Black History Month is celebrated in many different ways across the nation. At EWU, the Africana Education Program hosted a number of educational and festive programs that touched a range of issues.
Soul Food Sunday, where students came together to eat soul food, play games and talk, started off the week. Soul food is very important to black people because, during the time of slavery, slave owners gave them just enough scraps to keep them working. The slaves had to gather together to make do with what they were given and, as blacks progressed, they kept their traditions, calling it soul food because the word “soul” had a lot to do with their culture.
Monday’s event included two popular professors on campus, Dr. Scott Finnie, an adjunct professor, and Dr. Robert Bartlett, a visiting professor, both in the African-American Studies department. Finnie grew up in a mainly de-segregated Oakland, Calif., while Bartlett lived in a segregated, Jim Crow town in West Virginia. There, with a population of only 3,000 people, color lines were seldom crossed. The two professors spoke of how their families were discriminated against because of their skin color and the experiences they went through that made them who they are today. Although they have known each other for 20 years now, this is the first time they have been teaching together at the same school. Bartlett said he loves being able to talk with and see his “younger brother” every day. They both agreed that in order to treat and accept everyone as unique individuals, society must fix the five sources of racial prejudice, which include fear, ignorance, selfishness, cultural myopia and insecurity.
Tuesday and Wednesday’s events had more to do with the African-American arts: how black films came to be and how poetry and spoken word have historically expressed how blacks feel about the way they are perceived and honored in American society. On Feb. 24, professor Angela Schwendiman, an adjunct professor in the electronic media and film department, talked about how to determine the black film aesthetic. According to Schwendiman, blacks were first seen on film in 1915, but they were portrayed only as angry rapists with a thirst for power. She talked about what makes up a black film, explaining that simply casting a couple of black actors does not make it a “black film.” Instead, said Schwendiman, a true black film shows the struggles and culture of black Americans.
On Feb. 25, the Black Student Union presented, “Poetic Justice: Pick up the Mic,” a night where everyone was invited to share their thoughts and beliefs through spoken word. The event drew a mixture of people with real-life problems who proved that through the power of poetry, it is possible to use individual experiences to unite those from different backgrounds.
Rounding off the week was the “Black History Month Celebration,” a combination of song, step, dance, poetry and video presentations. This event concluded the week long events and tied them into a single message: It’s vital that everyone’s history should be recognized and represented throughout American culture and society needs to change itself if it is to change the world.