Wednesday, January 15, 2014

11 Months of African American History

February will be here in a few weeks, and events celebrating African American History Month will become ubiquitous. As mentioned before, on this blog, squeezing an entire culture into one month of events seems arbitrary and limiting, so this year, Evanston Public Library is taking a different, and somewhat radical approach.

You will not see a February Black History display. We will not have a list of African American History Month events. Instead, in March we are launching a series we're calling "11 Months of African American History". Rather than attempt to fit all of our  rich African American cultural offerings into 28 short days, we are committed to offering at least one African American themed event every month between March 2014 and January 2015.

There are several reasons for this approach. It's worth recalling that when Carter G. Woodson
created Negro History week in 1926, he did not foresee it as continuing indefinitely. According to the Association for the Study of African American Life and History's "History of Black History Month":

"Well before his death in 1950, Woodson believed that the weekly celebrations—not the study or celebration of black history--would eventually come to an end.  In fact, Woodson never viewed black history as a one-week affair.  He pressed for schools to use Negro History Week to demonstrate what students learned all year.  In the same vein, he established a black studies extension program to reach adults throughout the year.  It was in this sense that blacks would learn of their past on a daily basis that he looked forward to the time when an annual celebration would no longer be necessary. Generations before Morgan Freeman and other advocates of all-year commemorations, Woodson believed that black history was too important to America and the world to be crammed into a limited time frame."

In accordance with Mr. Woodson’s vision, the Evanston Public Library is extending our celebration of African American history and culture to a full 11 Months of African American History. Given that February is well covered, we will not be holding any events during that month, (other than our regular African American Literature book club) but will encourage patrons to partake of the many other cultural events taking place in the community.

Our celebration will start in March with the kick-off of a monthly reading and discussion series of the August Wilson Century Cycle plays, one each month through January 2015, led by theater notables such as Ron O.J. Parsons, Jacqueline Williams and Gloria Bond Clunie. Other activities include a ceremony recognizing African American veterans in May, two lectures on African American history from Northwestern University’s Alice Kaplan Humanities Institute in March and April,  a bilingual discussion of an  Isabel Allende novel set in Saint Domingue, and a lecture on the portrayal of African American women in The Help in November. We will also continue to hold our monthly African American Literature book discussion on the 3rd Tuesday of each month, and screen documentaries on African American history throughout the year.

Ideally, African American History month should expand our access to black culture, not limit it. This wonderful op-ed by teacher Daniel Jocz," Black History is American History, Year Round "says it all:

"I did not celebrate Black History Month in my classes this year. Nor will I celebrate Women's History Month in March, Asian Pacific Heritage in May, Hispanic Heritage in September, or even LGBT Month in October. We have an unfortunate tendency in this country to exclude the stories of various groups in our year-round teaching of the nation's history. The experience of African Americans, women, immigrants, workers, the poor, and gay and lesbian individuals is American history. We should not need special months or laws signed by elected officials to commit ourselves to teaching an American history that is inclusive of all Americans. The American experience has been influenced by class, gender, race, sexual orientation, geography, and religion. To not teach this history year round is to do a disservice to our nation's rich, complicated past"


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