This piece explores another African American bit of history. It is about John Lewis and James Zwerg.
Like many, I would love to have been a proverbial “fly on the wall,” listening intently to candid conversations between those two men. Of course, we –well, most of us anyway – know about the late congressman John Lewis. But James Zwerg?
The debate over Black History Month is not new, but it intensified when the Oscar nominees were all Caucasian and earned the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. Provoked an outcry, it raised questions about the existence of Black Entertainment Television awards (BET) and whether it hurt rather than helped African Americans in Hollywood.
“Either we want to have segregation or integration. And if we don’t want segregation, then we need to get rid of channels like BET and the BET Awards and the Image Awards, where you’re only awarded if you’re black. If it were the other way around, we would be up in arms. It’s a double standard, ” said actress Stacey Dash in Variety. .
The controversy also involves Black History Month. My conversations with friends showed considerable ambivalence. Some felt that limiting the recognition of African Americans to one month was not helpful. Recognition and respect should be awarded throughout the year. Further, they felt that Black History should be seen as American History. Luronda Jennings, a member of Chattanooga’s Lean In – Women GroundBreakers, expressed her views. “Although Black History awareness is extremely valuable, I feel that once the entire human race respects and embraces American history and the uniqueness of all individuals, we will begin to move forward with positive change.” Another member of the group, Tina Player, shared similar thoughts, “Black should be recognized every day and not focused on one month of the year. We as a people are important and each of us has a story to tell.”
Hopes for a time when Black History Month will be obsolete were joined by a down-to-earth perspective. Voicing concern that young people learn little about Black History in school, they were reluctant to reject events marking Black History Month. Too few youngsters know about prominent African Americans beyond The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
If there was no Black History Month, would there would be any recognition at all? Current censorship of race-related history suggest that instead of becoming more comfortable together as some claim, we’ll enter a culture war. Casting us adrift from our culturally diverse roots to achieve a more perfect union has never worked.. I have always said that attempts to “Homogenize NOT Harmonize” only alienates and creates more discomfort and conflict, not less. Perhaps the best solution is to use the tools of Black History Month to advocate for more visibility and equity.
Curiosity is a good thing. For those of us who are curious about the ancient world and have a need to discover the source and unearth the past to make sense of our present world, a museum ticket is our gateway to other worlds!
My curiosity led me to uncover the mystery of the word museum or mouseion (Greek) meaning the seat of the muses. In Greek mythology the nine muses were held in high esteem. The Merriam-Webster dictionary attributes the inspiration for song, poetry, the arts, and sciences to these sister goddesses. The Muses were to be enshrined in these edifices as a source of inspiration. According to Britannica.com, a mouseion was built to be a designated institution for philosophical discussion and contemplation. It was intended to be a place of learning and the arts. Continue reading The He(Art) of the Museum – by Cindy Steede Almeida→
The monthly Black-Jewish Dialogues began in Chattanooga virtually in July 2020 and quickly spread across the USA and internationally. As our communities progress in understanding each other, we explore new topics each month. History is frequently an underlying theme.
By the end of 2020, federal student loan debt in the United States surpassed $1.7 trillion, increasing by over 100% in the last decade. While this has become a national crisis impacting nearly 45 million borrowers, Black women are the most heavily burdened. A 2020 report by the AAUW indicates that Black women, on average, hold over $37,000 in loans each, compared to $31,346 held by white women, and $29,862 held by white men. As a whole, Black women, despite being the most institutionally educated demographic in the U.S., have a total of $35 billion in student loan debt.Furthermore, 57% of Black female college graduates indicate that they struggle to repay their student loans. While white borrowers are able to pay back an average of 10% of their total student loan debt each year, Black borrowers are only able to pay an average of 4% back, largely due to racial pay disparity.
Dr. Elwood Watson is Professor of History and African American Studies at East Tennessee State University. His areas of specialty are in 20th Century Post World War II U.S. History, African American History, African American Studies, Gender Studies, Popular Culture, and ethnographic studies. He is one of the editors of Mentoring Faculty of Color: Essays on Professional Development and Advancement in Colleges and Universities. In addition, he is the recipient of the Faculty Teaching Award and Faculty Distinguished Research Award from the College of Arts & Science. See the review of his latest book, Keepin’ It Real: Essays on Race in Contemporary America.
James Baldwin, the 20th century black intellectual, renaissance author and cultural critic, once observed: “History is the present. We carry our history with us. To think otherwise is criminal.”
In addition to recognizing African American trailblazers of centuries past during Black History Month, it’s also instructive to consider more recent history. That’s why a compelling new book by historian Elwood David Watson, Ph.D. is recommended reading: Keepin’ It Real: Essays on Race in Contemporary America (University of Chicago Press).
Editor’s Note: February commemorates and celebrates American history and culture.Here are two aspects of this month in the words of one of the best speakers and communication coaches in the country, Vincent Ivan Phipps.
Why is Black History Month in February?
Thank the ASNLH, Association for the Study of Negro Life and History!In 1916 an American historian, Carter G. Woodson, began editing this organization’s primary scholarly publication called the Journal of Negro History. In 1924, as a member of the historically Black fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, Woodson used the platform of his fraternity to introduce Negro History and Literature Week.In 1926, Woodson and the ASNLH inaugurated Negro history week in February 1926 which eventually parlayed into National Negro Month or to what it is called today, Black History Month.
When I started teaching civil rights in graduate school, I developed a timeline of Black History in the United States. I included positive ones as well as tragedies, and tried to include more than African-American connected events, to represent a fuller picture of American history than is usually represented. I also included some world events to provide context and some removal from a “calculus of suffering” so often indulged in by one group comparing its history with another. The timeline makes no promises of completeness, and is a work in progress. It is generally referenced, and is fairly reliable. This timeline proved to be popular with students, who mostly had been raised and educated on the myth of progress, American Dream, and City on a Hill themes. They were surprised by the uneven progression of social equity in American history, with its frequent “one step forward, two steps back” meme. I’ve chosen some examples from just one year in this timeline for Black History Month.
Although traditionally the month of February has celebrated famous African-Americans throughout history, maybe it’s time to augment how that history is told with our personal history stories, ones that define and shape who we are today. Here’s mine…
The neighborhood I grew up in conjures up images of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” Hal Rauch’s “Our Gang” with scenes of Mayberry from the “Andy Griffin Show” added to the mix. The folks in my neighborhood were caring, creative and resourceful because we had to be. Our survival depended on it.