Black History Month celebrated with documentaries, discussion

Wednesday, February 22, 2012 | 6:40 p.m. CST; updated 11:09 a.m. CST, Thursday, February 23, 2012

COLUMBIA — Bill Thompson seemed bothered as he untangled the wires and set up the equipment for the documentary he was about to show. He worried about the lack of interest African-Americans have in Black History Month.

"It's a challenge trying to get people to take advantage of this month," said Thompson, a recreation specialist with the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department. He hosted an African- American Culture in History and Film event Tuesday night at the Armory Sports & Recreation Center.

Other Parks and Recreation sponsored events

The Columbia Department of Parks and Recreation will also be sponsoring a Gospel Explosion and Soul Food Dinner Musical Celebration at 3 p.m. Sunday at St. Luke United Methodist Church, 204 E. Ash St.

The event will have gospel music from both local and regional acts, followed by a soul food dinner for all who attend.

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Six people attended.

The Parks and Recreation Department sponsored the event, which was the second in a two-part series that began Feb. 14.

For Tuesday, Thompson chose the Peabody Award-winning documentary "Africans in America: America's Journey Through Slavery." He said he hoped the film would challenge what people know about slavery and spark a discussion on the social division among different classes of African-Americans.

"I wanted to find other films to get people to take advantage and learn new things," he said. "It's really necessary to keep these concepts going."

The documentary explored the origins of early labor contracts in the 17th century, preceding what Americans now know as the era of slavery. Some Africans who came to America on their own in the mid-1600s signed labor contracts that usually lasted five to seven years. They worked as servants until the end of their contracts, then became free. They often were given a bushel of corn, clothing and 50 to 100 acres of land.

According to the documentary, those servant-employer relationships made the transition to true slavery when America became influenced by servants' inhumane treatment in Barbados, where servants were slaves who worked for masters until they died. Americans found that strategy to be cheaper. The documentary also refuted the idea that slavery was solely a Southern institution, saying the entire nation was behind it.

After the film, Thompson and those in attendance discussed how they felt about the documentary and other aspects of African-American culture. The talk quickly went from the film to topics such as slavery contradicting Christianity, race relations, the self-hatred of African-Americans and the struggles that African-American youths face.

Hickman High School junior Steven Grissom said he learned a few things at the event, but he wishes public schools would show documentaries such as "Africans in America." He said others could learn a lot.

Columbia resident Addae Ahmad said he enjoyed the event.

"This is part of my celebration of African-American history," Ahmad said. "I like the discussion groups and forums, no matter how small."

Although the turnout was not what Thompson had hoped for, he said he believes the event was necessary.

"We'll keep celebrating Black History Month until we don't have to," Thompson said. "We'll keep celebrating until black history is included in the total mainstream history of America."

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