Preserving Black History
After “loaning” out my column for the last two editions, I’m excited to share our Black history month editions with you. In this edition of Black Issues, we have focused on Black cultural centers and their importance, relevance and future on college campuses. I can remember at my alma mater the Black cultural center served as a refuge as it does on so many campuses. And although I cannot speak for all of my African American classmates, most of us did not seek refuge at the center because we felt unwelcome on campus, but because it was a place where we could enjoy each other’s company and talk honestly and openly about what was going on on campus. We enjoyed visiting lecturers, reunions, and four years worth of Kwanzaa and Black history month celebrations. And with the Black student population being fairly small, the center made it possible for us to at least see who each other were.
The center was popular among Black students, but it caused some divisiveness as student groups of various ethnicities expressed their frustration to the administration and student government on a yearly basis about the unfairness of having just a Black cultural center on campus (there was an international student center as well). Every year we felt threatened that one day we might wake up and find that the Black cultural center was now a “multicultural center.” Our executive director always reminded us that other groups were “eyeing” our house, so we might want to take advantage of its resources, such as the computers, reference books and study space, on a more regular basis. The house still belongs to the Black students but from what I hear the debate over centers for the other student groups continues.
Therefore, I was encouraged after reading David Hefner’s article that even in the current political and racial climate, colleges and universities are still building Black cultural centers and renovating others. Some schools have made a serious investment in cultural centers — constructing separate centers for the emerging ethnic groups on campus. Dr. Katherine Bankole of West Virginia University says: “There’s no reason why you can’t have multiple cultural centers. We just get caught up in a zero-sum game because they think resources are scarce.”
The usefulness of Black cultural centers can be debated, but for some African American students the campus Black cultural center is the deciding factor — it’s what makes them come and it’s what makes them stay.
In this edition, we’re also looking at the resurgence of another symbol of the African American community — Black history museums. With a number of Black history museums in the planning stages, including the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati and a proposed slavery museum in Fredericksburg, Va., Black historians are getting more opportunities to bypass academia and go the public history route, allowing them to share their knowledge and interests with a wider audience (see story, page 30).
Speaking of a wide audience, South Carolina State University professor and artist Leo Twiggs recently got the opportunity to showcase a piece of his artwork — a Christmas ornament depicting the South Carolina birth home of the late Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, the sixth president of Morehouse College and spiritual mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Selected by South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges, Twiggs’ ornament was one of several ornaments to decorate the 18-foot Christmas tree in the Blue Room of the White House (see story, page 36). Gaining national attention, there is now a serious effort to preserve the house, and at the same time, preserve history, Black history.
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