We are now in the last full week of February, and at Columbia University—and New York City at large—there remain many opportunities to commemorate this year’s Black History Month.

Here are five suggestions:

1) Read about the new Columbia and Slavery initiative, a compilation of historical materials documenting Columbia University’s complicity in the slave trade.
WHERE: Go to https://columbiaandslavery.columbia.edu/
WHEN: Anytime; the collection of materials will continue to grow.
WHY WE RECOMMEND: As Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger has said, studying the history of how the university profited from its ties to wealthy slave merchants and of the role played by slaves on campus is the first step toward addressing injustices, both past and present. By taking this step, Columbia will be joining a nationwide movement among U.S. universities to document this controversial period of American history.

2) Attend a screening of Chapter & Verse, co-written and directed by Prof. Jamal Joseph.
WHERE: MIST Harlem; 46 West 116th Street, New York, NY 10026
WHEN: Hurry! Screenings started yesterday and run through February 23rd.
WHY WE RECOMMEND: There are many great films that students of Black history can watch this month—from classics like In the Heat of the Night (1967) to recent films like Hidden Figures and I Am Not Your Negro; but for a limited time, CSSW students can go to the cinema and support the work of one of Columbia’s own: Chapter & Verse: A Harlem Story, a feature-length drama co-written and directed by Jamal Joseph, a film professor at the Columbia School of the Arts, which opened in Harlem on February 3rd. The story follows reformed gang leader S. Lance Ingram and the difficulties he faces of finding work after incarceration, despite the education and skills he gained while serving time. A former Black Panther, Joseph himself spent nearly six years in Leavenworth Penitentiary after being prosecuted as one of the Panther 21. As he told one interviewer: “Lance is inspired by a few really good men who I saw come out of prison and try to rebuild their lives.”

3) Visit the Social Work Library’s Whitney Young, Jr. showcase and check out his papers at the Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
WHERE: The Social Work Library is at 1255 Amsterdam Ave, 2nd Floor; the Rare Book & Manuscript Library is in East Butler Library, 6th floor (go to Columbia Libraries map).
WHEN: CSSW Library hours can be found here. Rare Book & Manuscript Library hours, where the Whitney Young Jr. papers are stored, can be found here.
WHY WE RECOMMEND: Whitney Young, Jr., is an unsung hero of the Civil Rights Movement, who spent much of his too-short life working to end employment discrimination in the United States. He also turned the National Urban League into an activist organization that stood up for the historically disenfranchised. We particularly recommend this activity for students, faculty, and staff at CSSW as Whitney Young’s story is close to our School’s own history. Among other accomplishments, Young served as the first dean of Social Work at the all-black Atlanta University and the first Black president of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). In his last column as NASW president, Young wrote, “[The public] have to hear from social workers as much as they hear from reporters and government officials.” Also, while serving as the executive director of the National Urban League, Young developed a close relationship with the New York School of Philanthropy, an early iteration of CSSW. He left his papers to Columbia University, giving our students the opportunity to study his life in greater detail and to appreciate the role of social workers in social movements.

4) Attend a Columbia-organized panel with Ta-Nehisi Coates on next steps in the struggle for racial justice.
WHERE: Columbia University School of the Arts’s Miller Theater, 2960 Broadway at 116th St.
WHEN: TOMORROW, Wednesday, February 22, from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
WHY WE RECOMMEND: The last two years have seen historic movements to end police brutality, but under the new administration, how will the struggle for racial justice go forward? A coalition of offices and organizations at Columbia University has convened a panel, “Moving Forward: A Discussion of the 2016 Election and What’s Next,” to discuss just this issue. Panelists include Columbia faculty, award-winning journalist Nikole Hannah Jones, and acclaimed author, educator, and national correspondent for The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates.

5) Celebrate Black art and culture with AFROPUNK.
WHERE: Various venues throughout Harlem.
WHEN: The remainder of this week (February 21–25)
WHY WE RECOMMEND: This week, AFROPUNK, an online publication and movement around alternative culture and activism, will be “taking over” Harlem. Since the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, Harlem has been considered a center of Black culture in the US, and this week Columbia students , faculty, and staff can join in this celebration of the neighborhood’s history. The festival will feature “live musical performances, film screenings, comedy shows, jam sessions and frank discussions on identity, art and protest.”

* * *

Of course, this is by no means an exhaustive list of events and things to do this week. Columbia University still has many more events planned that highlight diverse aspects of Black history and culture, including book talks on topics ranging from the untold story of ethnic minority students who earned degrees from Columbia University’s School of Architecture during the Civil Rights Movement, to the importance of spirituality, particularly Afro-Protestantism, in modern Black literature. Harlem, too, has several more events planned, including an ongoing celebration of Black music.


About Black History Month

The tradition of celebrating Black history in February dates back to 1926. Historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History proposed a week-long curriculum for public schools that focused on teaching the history and culture of the Black community, which had either been left out of or revised in the dominant narratives found in U.S. history textbooks. In 1970, students at Kent State University extended the celebration to all of February, and on its 50th anniversary—in 1976—the US government officially recognized the month-long tradition.

Black History Month, however, continues to be debated. Does it achieve its initial goal of promoting Black history? If not, how can it be improved? For many, just one month a year would not be enough time to celebrate the rich contributions and complex interactions of the Black experience in U.S. history. For others, James Baldwin put it best when he said: “The history of America is the history of the Negro in America.” From this point of view, Black history should not be separated out from the nation’s history.

Whatever your position on Black History Month, there are several ways you can mark the occasion should you decide to. We would also encourage you to make it a life-long, year-round celebration of Black history and culture. Notably, two of the five recommended activities above can be done any time.

—Contributed by John Bohn, Communications Office

Leave a Reply