History relevant all year

Tara Pringle

Black studies should extend past February

Black History Month is almost over, but many organizations said the celebration of achievements in the African-American community should continue well past Feb. 28.

The Department of Pan-African Studies was founded with that mission in mind. The department, along with the Office of Campus Life and other student organizations, planned numerous events for the annual celebration.

Carter G. Woodson started Negro History Week in 1926 to “bring attention to contributions made by people of African descent,” said Mwatabu Okantah, professor of Pan-African Studies. “It wasn’t his intention to isolate it into a week or month. I think it’s misunderstood.”

According to biography.com, Woodson also established the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History and founded the Journal of Negro History. He is often called the “Father of Black History.”

“We should emphasize not Negro History, but the Negro in history. What we need is not a history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world void of national bias, race hate, and religious prejudice,” Woodson said in 1926, according to infoplease.com.

The name was changed to Black History Week in the early 1970s. In 1976, it was expanded to include the entire month of February.

Pan-African Studies professor George Garrison said Woodson’s intent closely mirrors that of the Pan-African Studies program.

“We believe the goal of all universities should, where relevant, have courses that contain history, culture and/or contributions of people of African descent and non-white people in this country,” Garrison said.

Okantah said even in the Department of Pan-African Studies, there is much progress to be made.

The preparation for Black History Month takes anywhere from a year to a few months in advance, said Diedre Badejo, chair of the Department of Pan-African Studies.

“It depends on the theme and what we’re trying to achieve,” Badejo said.

When she lived in California, Badejo said, she appreciated the celebration of Cinco de Mayo.

“I enjoyed it for what it was — a celebration of their history and culture,” she said. “We should celebrate the accomplishments of other cultures.”

Badejo said she would like to see speakers such as Dolores Aldridge, Shelia Walker or some of her colleagues from Africa at next year’s celebration.

“We have some very gifted and accomplished African-American scholars throughout the nation,” Garrison said. “I would like to see the university bring in these scholars to talk about their research, even if the research is controversial or at odds with the established orthodoxy of the academy.”

He said he would like to see some speakers such as Cornel West, a professor at Princeton, or author Yosef Ben-Jochanan.

Other organizations around the country are spreading the idea that black history should be a year-long interest.

McDonald’s started its “365 Black” program in 2002 to help promote black history.

“McDonald’s is a company that celebrates and values diversity,” said Vicky Free, marketing director of McDonald’s, in a press release. “This campaign emphasizes our recognition of and appreciation for the many contributions African-Americans have made to American history.

“As a result, we hope that our salute serves as a catalyst for year-round celebration.”

John Wiley Price, county commissioner of Dallas, refuses to do speaking engagements during Black History Month because “black people were visible during February, but the other 11 months of the year we became the invisible people.”

Black History Month can remind people that they need to focus on their culture every day, not just one month of the year, said Stephanie Fields, junior communication studies major.

Contact enterprise reporter Tara Pringle at [email protected].