Black Heritage Month is recognized during the shortest month of the year. According to Darrell M. Millner, Professor of Black Studies at PSU, “that’s just a humorous reflection.”
He says the reason February was selected is because it holds the birthdays of both Frederick Douglas, the greatest black leader of the 19th century, and Abraham Lincoln, the man most responsible for the official end of slavery in this country.
Carter G. Woodson, author and historian, created what was formerly known as Black History Week.
Woodson felt the weeklong observance was necessary because, according to Millner, “institutions like public education and disciplines like history and other scientific disciplines were completely captive of the notion of white supremacy in their origins in the early years of the twentieth century … They just assumed the stance of white superiority and supremacy.”
Carter Woodson wanted to offer an alternative. “Negro history week was created as an alternative to the corrupt presentation of those kinds of versions and viewpoints on history,” Millner said. “And it was absolutely necessary, if you know anything about the kind of context of history and education in the 1920s and before in American life.”
1n 1976 Black History Week evolved into Black History Month, and was recently renamed Black Heritage Month.
According to Millner, the change has occurred because, “over time what evolved was, not only an inclusion of historical information and considerations and the observation, but also cultural things… just a consideration of the whole panorama of the black cultural experience.
Millner believes PSU plays an integral role in that panorama. “I would call PSU probably the leading university in the state in terms of its observation. And that’s reasonable since Portland has the largest black population in the state. And Portland State has one of the largest black student bodies,” he said.
This month Portland State welcomes prominent figures in black culture to celebrate Black Heritage Month.
The BCAB (Black Cultural Affairs Board) hosted Bobby Seale, the co-founder of The Black Panther Party, on Tuesday.
On Friday February 27 and Saturday the 28th, the AAS (Association of African Students) presents Donna Howell.
Howell is a historian, newspaper columnist, keynote speaker, and national director of the Slaves Foundation, as well as the celebrated author of the “I Was a Slave” Series. Howell has been doing research for this collection since 1988, presenting documented details about the ex-slaves lives during and after slavery through narrative.
According to Suad Jama, president of the AAS, Howell’s approach to writing the history of slavery “is a little different then a lot of the other history books that would either have been taught in school.”
Jama also says that Howell connects well with young audiences, in large part due to her background in teaching college and high school.
“She has kind of developed this talent, experience, or skill to know what kind of information will inspire young generations to read more, to want to know more.”
According to Jama, these cultural events are not exclusive to the black community.
“We focus on promoting issues that are valuable to us African students, but that does not mean that our students are only the African students. Our audience is really everybody in the school, the students, faculty and anybody who we can reach and present to them our culture, our history, our ideas, our message. So our audience is everybody.”
Millner believes “the month finds a great diversity of activities that have different appeals to different parts of the campus community.”
Bringing these speakers to PSU also accomplishes the AAS’s goal to establish a link between PSU and the African community living in Portland.
In October the AAS organized a Nigerian Banquet, which hosted 300 people, the majority from the Portland community. The AAS is working on doing the same for the Ghanaian community in Portland.
“In the past it used to be that all events were only advertised on campus, but we want people from the African community to get to know PSU.”
The AAS advertised in the community, sending flyers to high schools, to IRCO (the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization) and to the African Women’s Coalition (a non-profit organization for African women).
According to Jama, the message behind the AAS’s founding 27 years ago is, “that we want to have a place where we could meet as Africans and promote our culture and let people know more about Africa and the people of Africa and the issues facing international students from Africa here. Our focus here is to present Africa, to the campus community and to PSU.”
She says that they achieve that through organizing events and “encouraging our students to be involved more with other organizations, and just to get people to know what’s happening in Africa, what are the issues of the African Internationals or Immigrants here.”
Says Jama, “What we’ve been doing is better then nothing, and it’s much better, I believe, then some other places. So it’s progress. I know we’ll continue, I know in the future we’ll be more sophisticated, more organized, and more people will have the expertise and the financial resources to do such events. I think we’ll just get better. But right at this point we’re progressing; from years ago to today. I think it’s a good thing. ”