Organizers urge all races to celebrate black heritage

Hayley Odom

Gladys Mambo did not celebrate Black History Month until four years ago. After arriving from Africa to study at the University, she became involved in the Black Student Union, which showed her how to celebrate black culture in the United States.

February is Black History Month and the country will commemorate the cultural history, achievements and contributions of the black community.

The University community will sponsor a variety of events, from soul food cookouts sponsored by the Black Student Union to an exhibit recognizing the service of blacks in the YMCA.

But supporters of the celebration are calling for more than recognition; they are looking for participation.

“Contrary to popular belief, Black Student Union events aren’t just for black students,” said Mambo, Black Student Union vice president and a senior studying political science and English. “We like having non-black students come to our events because we can teach the nonblack community about our heritage.”

Black History Month originated from Negro History Week, which Carter G. Woodson, a historian of black culture, started in 1926. The week coincided with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass, a renowned leader of the abolitionist movement, and former President Abraham Lincoln.

In 1976, during the country’s bicentennial, the week commemorating blacks’ contributions and achievements became a month-long celebration.

University events began Sunday with a Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Concert at Ted Mann Concert Hall.

The Black Student Union will kick off events today with a party from 12:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the Black Student Union Lounge, room 209 in Coffman Union. It and other student groups will sponsor events surrounding Black History Month every week in February.

Pearl Barner, assistant vice provost for the Office of Multicultural and Academic Affairs, said it is important for nonblack students to participate in events and appreciate the significance of this month.

“Of course I long for the day when this month would not be needed, when black history would be integrated into all facets of life as we know it,” Barner said. “Unfortunately that’s not the situation today.”

Black History Month is also seen as a catalyst for other cultures to find out more about their own history.

“There’s a dysfunctional romanticism that blacks have a rich history and that Euro-Americans don’t,” political science professor August Nimtz said. “Our country is a great tapestry of colors and traditions, and dealing with times of global change means dealing with the worlds within ourselves.”

Recent trends in the celebration of Black History Month include focusing on the cultural contributions of the black community and recognizing the achievements of ordinary people.

Everything from the Buffalo Soldier of the Civil War to the latest black achievements in modern architecture will be recognized throughout the month.

“The work isn’t done because the month tends to focus on people who were relatively famous in black history,” Nimtz said.

“The greatness of the freedom struggle is the ordinary people, like those right here in Minnesota, who are breaking barriers and creating a rich cultural heritage of music, art and education. Another frontier of Black History Month is to find a better way to highlight these unsung heroes.”