“If it is February, it must be Black History time.”
So say thousands of schools, churches and municipalities around the country, as events celebrating African American History Month become ubiquitous for 28 days.People put up ML King and Rosa Parks posters. They sing “Go Down Moses.” Kente cloth abounds. And then on Feb. 28, (or 29) it is all over.
While it is wonderful to celebrate the mix of cultures that makes up American society, squeezing an entire culture into one month of events seems arbitrary and limiting.
So this year, Evanston Public Library, (EPL), is taking a different, and somewhat radical, approach.
Library staff did not create a February Black History display. The EPL did not have a list of African American History Month events. Instead, in March, the Library is launching “11 Months of African American History.”
Rather than attempt to fit all the rich African American cultural offerings into 28 short days, EPL has 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 is worth recalling that, according to the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, when Carter G. Woodson created Negro History Week in 1926, he did not foresee it as continuing indefinitely, :
“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, Mr. Woodson never viewed black history as a one-week affair. … Generations before Morgan Freeman and other
advocates of all-year commemorations, Mr. 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 the celebration of African American history and culture to a full “11 Months of African American History.”
Given that February is well-covered elsewhere, EPL has not held any events this month other than its regular African American Literature book club, but has encourage patrons to partake of the many cultural events that took place in the community.
The centerpiece of the EPL celebration will be a monthly reading and discussion series of the ten August Wilson Century Cycle plays, one each month through January 2015, led by theater notables such as Ron O.J. Parsons, Jacqueline Williams, Jonathan Wilson, and Aaron Todd Samuels. The 10 plays cover 100 years of African American experience, decade by decade. The cycle will begin with “Gem of the Ocean,” led by Ms. Williams, at 6 p.m. on March 10.
Other March activities include a March 6 lecture on images of black women in art from art historian Huey Copeland and Northwestern University’s Alice Kaplan Humanities Institute; the documentary “The Trials of Muhammad Ali” with Reeltime films on March 11; and discussions of three books: “Island Beneath the Sea” by Isabel Allende, “Mr. Potter” by Jamaica Kincaid and “Middle Passage” by Evanston-born author Charles Johnson.
The series will continue with presentations from Darleen Clark Hine, a scholar in African American women’s history in April; Dino Robinson of Shorefront, “North of Chicago: African Americans on the North Shore” in May; and Northeastern scholar Joan Johnson on the portrayal of African American women in “The Help” in November.
The Library will continue to hold monthly African American Literature book discussions on the third Tuesday of each month and to screen African-American-themed films throughout the year.
Ideally, African American History month should expand the public’s 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.
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. To not teach this history year round is to do a disservice to our nation’s rich, complicated past.”