Black History Month

Dean Jeanette Takamura sent out an email to the Columbia School of Social Work community at the end of last week with the following subject line:

54 Years of Justice at Last

She was referring to South Carolina court's decision to absolve the Friendship Nine, a group of nine African-American men, of wrong-doing. Their crime? To enter a segregrated lunch counter in downtown Rock Hill 54 years ago, sit down, and order hamburgers, soft drinks, and coffee, and then refuse to leave after they were told they would not be served. Found guilty of "trespassing," all but one of the men chose to perform 30 days of hard labor in a chain gang rather than pay bail, giving birth to the "Jail, No Bail" movement.

On Wednesday, January 28th, 2015, the men's sentences were "vacated, null and void, and set aside…dismissed with prejudice" in a courtroom about 500 yards from where the sit-in occurred. The judge, a nephew of the judge who presided over the men's trials, said: "We cannot rewrite history, but we can right history." The men were represented by the same attorney who pleaded their case more than half a century ago.

In her note to Columbia University's social work community, Dean Takamura said: "Victories like this, that show us how unjust our societies can be, remind us of the work that remains to ensure that persons of color, sexual minorities, religious groups, persons with disabilities, and others can live lives free from discrimination."

Reliving this decades-old event, which took place at the start of the civil rights movement, seems an apt beginning to Black History Month, which this year is centered on the theme "A Century Of Black Life, History, and Culture," to recognize and honor African American individuals for their achievements, innovations and progressive movements that have positively contributed to society throughout history.

Black History Month activities will soon be in full swing at the School of Social Work, with a weekly event series planned by the students in our Black Caucus, beginning tomorrow:

  • Feb. 4th, 8:15 p.m.:  #DialogueMatters: Community, Cops and Culture—continuing the discussion of the Black Lives Matter protests against recent Grand Jury decisions not to indict the two policy officers involved in the killings of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island. (C06)
  • Feb. 11th, 8:15 p.m.: For Colored Boys—discussion on life as a man in the Black Community. (C06)
  • Feb. 18th, 8:15 p.m. "Black Diaries"—screening of documentary made by CSSW alum and discussion/talk-back. (C03)
  • Feb. 25th, 8:15 p.m.: "Color Outside the Lines"—discussion on deconstructing mental health stigmas in the Black community. (C03)

We hope all members of the School of Social Work community will take part in some aspect of this year's celebrations, beginning with sparing a few moments to ponder the Friendship Nine and their remarkable story.

—ML Awanohara

Photo credit: Book cover art for No Fear for Freedom: The Story of the Friendship 9, by Kimberly Johnson. Johnson met the survivors of the Friendship Nine four years ago when they were celebrating the 50th anniversary of their sit-in. Her book, designed to be a children's story, is the first to preserve their accounts of what happened on Jan. 31, 1961, and the days afterward.

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