Black History Month Awareness in Tuscaloosa
University of Alabama professor and student speak on how Black History Month awareness can be improved for the future.
By Jennifer Johns
This year marks the 400th anniversary of when English colonials first brought African slaves over to America. From then on, the United States has seen struggles and triumphs as African Americans have fought for their civil rights.
Carter G. Woodson created the first instance of Black History Month in 1926, first known as “Negro History Week.”. The Black History Month known today was extended to a nationally recognized month-long celebration in 1976 after being recognized by then-President Gerald Ford. The celebration coincides with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, and it is dedicated to recognizing African Americans who have impacted American society.
“The arc of black history is one of struggle and perseverance that has led to change in the U.S. and the world,” said Hilary Green, an associate professor of history and co-program director of African American studies at the University of Alabama.
Green said African Americans incrementally changed history despite having a lack of resources to do so. Black History Month, Green said, is about learning from those role models about how to deal with current disappointments.
Green participates in multiple talks during Black History Month, she said, so she can bring education outside of the classroom. Green has an annual “Hallowed Grounds” tour where she takes participants around the University of Alabama campus to places slavery had an impact on the institution. Two of the tour stops are Garland and Manly Hall, both named after UA presidents that owned and rented slaves.
Green said we should be moving toward an education about black history that is throughout the academic year, not just one month.
A 2014 report conducted by the National Assessment of Educational Progress found only 18 percent of eighth graders were proficient in American history– a number that did not significantly change from 2010.
Darnell Sharperson, a junior majoring in public relations and president of the Black Student Union at UA, said thinking about Black History Month makes him proud of his background but also nervous about the heightened exposure of the black community that comes with it.
Though this exposure is positive, Sharperson said, it can sometimes misconstrue the point of the month which is for the responsibility of every person to learn about how African Americans have impacted all lives, not just those of their race.
“With what’s gone on in the last few years, it has put things into perspective,” Sharperson said.
Sharperson said we must work to end the negative cycle of injustice, and people should become comfortable with talking about these things all year round. Sharperson compared it to a relationship. He said he shouldn’t just show love to someone on Valentine’s Day but instead all the time.
Green said the key to bettering awareness about African American history is by reminding people this history matters. Green said it is about local significance as it is national, and awareness can be done through social media and advertising local promotions of the month.
Tuscaloosa has several activities throughout the month for those wanting to learn more about African American history.One option for Tuscaloosa residents is the Murphy Collins African-American Museum. Located on Paul W. Bryant Drive, the museum focuses on the lifestyle of affluent African Americans during the early 1900s. First a residential home in the early 1920s for Tuscaloosa’s first licensed black mortician, Will J. Murphy, the museum now has tours by appointment by calling them at 205-758-286.