USA Voices on Black History

Posted on February 12, 2016 by Joy Washington
Joy Washington

“Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.”

- Dr. Carter G. Woodson, son of former slaves and the “Father of Black History.”

The University of South Alabama salutes February as Black History Month with USA Voices on Black History, featuring the thoughts of students, faculty and staff. Each of them share thoughts on how black history helps tell the story of what it means to be an American, how African Americans enriched that history and what lessons can be learned from the experiences of black history makers. This is the first part of a two-part series; the second is available here

DeWitt Ford
President, African American Student Association

DeWitt FordBlack history helps tell the story of what it means to be an American by displaying the true identity of what it means to be human. Elaborating more closely on that statement, it exemplifies how people can change with time.  African Americans came to this country as slaves, and now we have the first black president of the United States. America was the last place you would imagine unity after 400 years of torment and cruelty simply because of the color of one's skin. We were hung from trees and beaten. To be an American, you have to be able to be open-minded and be willing to change, and we have achieved that.

African Americans enriched that story by showing how determination can get you through some of the greatest obstacles. Whether it was Langston Hughes with his smooth lyrical poems, George Washington Carver's inventions or Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream, we can overcome.

Seeing how President Barack Obama changed history by becoming the first African American president of our country teaches us that we can become anything in this world. 

Dr. Joel Lewis
Associate Professor, College of Education

Joel LewisWhen I was a little girl, my parents would take my brothers and me to my grandparents’ house to celebrate birthdays and learn about our ancestry.  All the children would sit on the floor in a circle. Together we would make music with wooden sticks, draw African art and listen to Uncle Israel tell stories about Cudjo Lewis, the last survivor of the slave ship Clotilde, which docked at Mobile Bay. When I became an adult, I truly understood the significance of my ancestry, and the impact it had on my life and its influence on my view of community service.  These gatherings were my family’s way to help us develop pride in ourselves as members of a family, community and nation. The U.S. and Alabama history that I learned in school was not inclusive of the history similar to what I learned with my family, nor did it tell the hard truths that I am still learning today.

In February, I often hear people talk about what blacks have contributed to American history, including inventions, civil rights and advancements within the race. I always marvel at the accomplishments of those who have come before me, and as a result of their actions, have made my life easier.  I have come to realize that African Americans do not enrich American history. We are American history.

I am inspired by the known and unknown history makers that tread a path of resistance. I would often look at a close up of Cudjo. In his face, I could see the struggle, triumphs, pain and hope. Sometimes with my eyes filled with tears, I would become inspired, feel stronger and instantly have a second wind.  I hope years from now, we will be history makers that will inspire generations to make a difference in the lives of others.

Dr. Kern Jackson
Director, African American Studies, College of Arts and Sciences

Kern JacksonFor some time in this country there has been an urgent need for a curriculum that would address long-suppressed black history, that would take pride in the literary, political, social and educational accomplishments of people of African descent the world over. This course of inquiry has diversified the classroom, from textbooks to teachers, and students have developed analytical tools by which they can retrieve important information from the African and American past.  Central to this is the connection to their lived experiences, to the lives and struggles of centuries of Africans enslaved and free.    

A consistent result of this inquiry has been the training of leaders who bring their knowledge to bear upon the pressing social, cultural and political needs of the United States and the world. In doing this, they also bring the best of their research and creativity into the conversation that is the foundation of all academic learning. 

We honor the many historians and educators who have paved the way as black history makers. Because of the knowledge they have shared, black history is taught more in the classrooms.

Jinni Frisbey
Associate Athletic Director, Sports Medicine

Jinni FrisbeyBlack history is American history. The fears of difference in the world bore out a path for the courageous to shine their light. I believe athletics provide an unprecedented direction for unity among all Americans. Sports enabled assembly for all races to have a similar goal and inspired a message of hope. It does not matter what color, creed or religion we are -- we all want to be able to make the decisions for freedom.

Black history would not be what it is today without those believers like Dr. King and others, who paved the way for freedom for all.

They sacrificed things that most of us today could not identify with. Imagine the struggles of Jackie Robinson, the first African American baseball player in the major leagues and other African American athletes entering into the sport of their choice. They succeeded through pure determination and courage to achieve their goals.

Warren Greene
Assistant Hospital Administrator, Medical Center

Warren GreeneWhen I reflect on the greatness of America, especially having served in the U.S. Marines and having traveled to other countries, I am truly proud to be an American. I believe that black history helps to highlight this feeling when I hear and reflect on the impact that African Americans have made in developing and growing this country. I think about the impact of the Montford Point Marines, who were the first African Americans to serve in the United States Marine Corps and helped pave the way for me and other African Americans who have gone on to serve in this great military branch as well as those who are still serving today. Realizing that to be great, often times someone must endure and persevere challenges and hardship to make the way easier for others.

As a country boy, having lived my pre-teen years on a plantation, and my grandfather having worked as a sharecropper, he helped instill in me outstanding values of putting God first and working hard. Although my grandfather did not have an advanced education and was partially paralyzed, I never heard him complain about his circumstances. He was a proud family man of 14 children, and he made sure they were all provided for. He, my grandmother and my mother have enriched my life.

Black history makers showed a level of perseverance to endure the various trials that far exceed what is experienced today. They were able to endure because they were focused on the long-term goal of a better life for their children and their children’s children. We all are history makers.

See the second installment of this two-part series on USA Voices on Black History. For a list of Black History Month events at South, visit the website of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs.  

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