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Black history: confined to one month?

The monthly emphasis aggravates some but inspires others to keep the issues alive year-round.

By JON WILSON
Published February 16, 2005


ST. PETERSBURG - Criticism from people of color has struck Black History Month, a February observance intended to recognize African influence in human development in America and elsewhere.

In Dallas, the only elected black county commissioner refuses to make public speeches during February.

John Price said he resents being courted as a black speaker during one month and then, with other blacks, becoming "invisible" the rest of the year, according to an Associated Press report.

The same report quoted a columnist in a Los Angeles weekly newspaper as saying black history confined to a lone month "is more aggravating than ameliorating."

The positions resonated among a sampling of south Pinellas County activists and leaders, even though most agreed that Black History Month serves a good purpose. None would turn down February speaking engagements; all would like to see the subject studied year-round.

"I applaud his stand because he's a very principled man, passionate about the subject matter. He wants consistency and evenness," said NAACP president Darryl Rouson. "By the same token ... my attitude is, why turn down an opportunity to spread the message?"

Which also is the message of Norman Jones Jr., a St. Petersburg resident who works nearly full time on local African-American history. Jones called Price "off base."

"Because America recognizes Black History Month doesn't mean you just have to use that month," Jones said. "But you should always consider doing black history programs throughout the year."

Rouson said he speaks three or four times a month all year about diversity and black history. "Then it spikes in February."

Historian Carter G. Woodson founded Black History Week in 1926, placing it between the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. In 1976, the federal government designated February as Black History Month.

African-Americans aren't the only ethnic group with a month dedicated to cultural education. November has been recognized as National American Indian Heritage Month.

"When you have to recognize a people one month out of the year, that really is condescending," said Bruce Two Eagles, an American Indian rights activist who presents substance abuse workshops to educators around the nation.

The Greenville, Tenn., resident emphasizes that he doesn't speak for all American Indians, but only "people who think the same way I do." History texts, he said, tend to teach not American history but Eurocentric American history.

Locally, School Board member Mary Brown said she is looking at texts and curricula with a goal of making them more inclusive and more in-depth about the contributions of all groups.

The school choice plan makes that a must, Brown said.

"Looking at the possibility of some schools' becoming segregated, if that is what happens, it's even more important," she said. Students need to see and learn about people who are different, she said.

St. Petersburg City Council member Earnest Williams is a veteran of the Florida civil rights movement, having helped integrate lunch counters and Chipola Junior College during the 1960s in his hometown of Marianna.

He wouldn't turn down February speaking engagements, but he said he strongly believes in breadth and depth of African history. He cited a TV program about Carthaginian conqueror Hannibal.

"He didn't look like me," Williams said. The general was portrayed as white, despite being from north Africa. "We've got to get beyond that."

Rouson is among those who want to take history lessons beyond the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday and Black History Month.

He is contemplating organizing a march in memory of King's assassination on April 4, 1968. It could be held on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street, he said, and start at Second Avenue S.

It's the site where a white mob lynched a black man in November 1914.

BLACK HISTORY MONTH EVENTS

Through Feb. 28 , special exhibit, "Black Baseball ... Ancient, Negro League and Modern." Original artwork and photos presented by Thomas English, artist and father of New Negro Baseball, St. Petersburg Johnson Branch Library, 1059 18th Ave. S. For more information, call 893-7113.

Through Feb. 28 , special exhibit, "African-American Millennium Exhibit ... The Western Frontier," created by Norman E. Jones II, Johnson Branch library. Call 893-7113 for more information.

Through Feb. 28 , special exhibit, a tribute to the segregation-era Gibbs High School administration and staff at the St. Petersburg Museum of History, 335 Second Ave. NE (on the approach to the Pier). A free reception at 3 p.m. Feb. 27 for Gibbs graduates and active or retired faculty members. To RSVP for reception, call 894-1052, ext. 200.

Through Feb. 23 , at 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays, African-American cinema, Johnson Branch library. Call 893-7113 for more information.

Through Friday , black history programs, various programs, films and activities including Annual Youth Dialog, Enoch Davis Center, 1111 18th Ave. S, St. Petersburg. Call for details. Free. Call 893-7134.

Tonight at 9, WEDU, Ch. 3, Slavery and the Making of America , second of a two-part series narrated by actor Morgan Freeman. Film shows how slavery became the central economic base for the country's development.

Thursday , the Science Center of Pinellas County, the Determined Heart, fundraiser, 6-8 p.m, 7701 22nd Ave. N, St. Petersburg. Program to celebrate the center's African American Inventors and Scientists exhibit and honor Vivien Thomas, a pioneer in the research and treatment of "blue baby syndrome." Thomas' nephew, Dr. Koco Eaton, will give a presentation about his uncle. Refreshments and entertainment. Cost is $25 for adults and $15 for students; all proceeds will benefit the science center. Registration is required. Call 384-0027.

Friday , 2-6 p.m., a film tribute to Ossie Davis, a fond farewell to this honored writer, actor and director who spoke for human dignity and social justice, St. Petersburg Main Library, 3745 Ninth Ave. N. 893-7724.

Saturday , 1 to 3 p.m., jazz Black History Month celebration concert by Opposite Sax, St. Petersburg South Branch library, 2300 Roy Hanna Drive S. Free. Call 893-7244.

Sunday , Botanical Tribute to African-American History: Discover the various plants of the African continent and Madagascar, noon-4 p.m., a guided tour begins at 1:30 p.m., Sunken Gardens, 1825 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg. Free with park admission. Call 551-3100.

Tuesday , Shoshana Johnson, first African-American female POW, "Heroism Has No Color," 7 p.m., Eckerd College, Fox Hall, 4200 54th Avenue S. Call 864-7979 for more information.

Tuesday , 1:30 p.m., "How the Library Changed My Life," a lecture by Norman Jones with reception and tour of the African-American Millennium exhibit, Johnson Branch library. For more information, call 893-7113.

Feb. 23 , 7 p.m., Their Eyes Were Watching God , a novel by Zora Neale Hurston. Discussion of this African-American author and her tale of a black woman's self-discovery in early 20th century Florida, Main Library. Call 893-7724.

Feb. 24 , An Evening with Sweet Honey in the Rock, Grammy award-winning African-American female a cappella ensemble, 8 p.m., Mahaffey Theater, 400 First St. S, St. Petersburg, Tickets cost $25. Call 864-8894 or visit www.eckerd.edu/sweethoney

Feb. 26 , Florida African-American Heritage Celebration: This sixth annual event blends history, culture, entertainment and the arts, 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Pinewood Cultural Park, 12175 125th St. N, Largo. Free parking available off 119th Street. Shuttle buses run 10 a.m.-5:45 p.m. to the entrance in front of Gulf Coast Museum of Art. For more information, call 588-6342.

March 1 , 2 p.m., "How the Library Changed My Life," lecture by Norman Jones with reception and tour of the African-American Millennium Exhibit, Mirror Lake, 280 Fifth St. N, St. Petersburg. For more information, call 893-7268.

March 1 , Gospel Sing Out, featuring Gibbs High School Gospel Choir, 7 p.m., Eckerd College, Griffin Chapel. For information, call 864-7979.