This month is Black History Month, our opportunity to recognize the achievements of Black Americans and their role in United States history. It’s important to remember the impact of education on the origin of Black History Month. Nelson Mandela, who sacrificed so much to end South Africa’s apartheid policies, once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
Indeed, it was author, historian and educator Carter G. Woodson – considered the father of Black history – who in 1912 recognized the interest of African Americans in their history. Three years later, he formed an organization devoted to the scientific study of Black life and history.
In February 1926, Woodson announced a week dedicated to Black history, saying, “What we need is not a history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world void of national bias, race hate, and religious prejudice.”
Fifty years later, President Gerald Ford officially recognized February as Black History Month as a way “to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Tamba-Kuii Bailey, an assistant professor in Counseling Psychology who served as a co-chair on UND’s Diversity & Inclusion Task Force, appeared this week on KVLY’s “North Dakota Today” TV show to discuss the significance of this month to the University.
“For Black History Month, it’s important to understand the humanity, the persistence, the resilience within the Black community,” he said.
Bailey talked about the Black Student Association and the online forum it recently sponsored about the effect of the COVID pandemic on the Black community. He noted the Chester Fritz Library’s virtual exhibit on Black history and civil rights, which identifies books and other works on these topics. He also mentioned UND Today’s efforts to spotlight University’s connections to Black historical events, which includes the 1959 phone call Martin Luther King Jr. had with a small group of UND students.
In addition, on Wednesday, Feb. 17 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., the American Indian Center will host a Black History Month celebration.
UND is honored and proud to have alumni who have had meaningful impacts on Black history – educators and scholars, athletes, judges, and writers – among others. For example, the late Fritz Pollard Jr., a star Black athlete at UND in the 30s, was a bronze medal winner in the 1936 Olympics in Germany. During World War II he served in the Army special services and retired in the 1980s as director of the U.S. Department of State’s overseas schools for American citizens.
Era Bell Thompson, born in Bismarck, attended UND for two years where she began her writing career as a Dakota Student columnist. Author of the book “American Daughter” published in 1946, she recounted the life of a Black girl growing up in North Dakota. She went on to become the internationally renowned editor of Ebony magazine. Thompson received an honorary doctorate from the University in 1969 and, in 1976, she received North Dakota’s highest honor, the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award.
Federal Judge Ronald Davies, a UND graduate, forever made his mark on the civil rights movement in 1957 when he ordered the desegregation of the previously all-white Little Rock Central High in Arkansas. More recently, UND historian Eric Burin published his work, “Protesting on Bended Knee: Race, Dissent and Patriotism in 21st century America,” which deals with the historical perspective of the protest movement launched by former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
There can be no doubt that the University of North Dakota has produced and will continue produce leaders who – by way of their actions – have significant impacts on society and the history of this country.
As we shiver our way into what I hope will be a warmer second half of February, I’ll offer a friendly reminder that Monday, Feb. 15, is Presidents’ Day and a UND holiday. In addition to honoring those who served in our nation’s highest elected position, Presidents’ Day should also remind us that while democracy can be messy and chaotic at times, the American tradition of peacefully transferring power is vital to preserving the ideal of freedom and liberty for all.