MU will celebrate Black History Month by hosting more than two dozen events throughout the month of February, including presentations, performances and panel discussions. Many of the events, which will be held on campus and at venues around Columbia, are free and open to the public.
The event series will kick off at 7 p.m. tonight with a speech by Robert Williams, titled “And Still We Rose: From the Cotton Shacks to Cadillacs,” at the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center. Williams is a retired professor from Washington University in St. Louis.
Julius Thompson, director of the Black Studies program at MU, says this year’s Black History Month event series differs from years past because of its focus on more local speakers. He expects that one of the biggest events will be an address by UM System President Elson Floyd at 7 p.m. Monday at Conservation Auditorium, called “Education: Gateway to Equality.”
A number of performances are also planned this month, including the Harlem Gospel Choir’s visit to Jesse Auditorium on Feb. 8 and a “Gospel Explosion” concert at St. Luke United Methodist Church on Feb. 25.
A panel discussion on Feb. 27, “The Educational Experience of African Americans in Columbia, Mo., 1900-2007,” will take a closer look at education history. The event will feature panelists with experience in Columbia’s public schools and begins at 2 p.m. at the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center.
Nathan Stephens, director of the center, said that Black History Month is a chance to examine the history of African-Americans. “If you look at most history classes, they’re exclusive of black history,” Stephens said. “Now we can learn new things and gain a different perspective.”
The events in Columbia were planned by a committee of students and faculty, with input from fraternities, sororities and civic organizations. Thompson, who chaired the committee, said the month’s activities are important for the community at large.
“Black History Month provides an opportunity for greater diversity, reflection on race relations and increasing understanding of our past, present and hopes for our future,” Thompson said.
A Columbia native, Stephens is participating in his first Black History Month as director of the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center. He urges the entire city to take part in the celebration.
“This is not a university function,” Stephens said. “It’s a Columbia function.”