Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Black History Month

Last month, Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman stated in an interview on TV's newsmagazine "60 Minutes" that, "Black history is American history." That's not the part that got attention though. Furthermore, he called Black History Month "ridiculous" and he claimed in this frequently quoted piece, "I don't want a black history month. You're going to relegate my history to a month?" These remarks generated a spate of editorials and letters to the editor at the time (12/18/05 broadcast). Now the topic is back in the headlines as February, Black History Month, approaches. In response to the Op-Ed piece of January 19, "Time to Dump Black History", a letter to the editor in USA Today yesterday states "Black History Month has no more to do with "confining" black Americans' history to February than St. Patrick's Day has to do with confining Irish history to March 17. Rather, Black History Month is the recognition that all of the world has benefited from the history of Africans in the USA relative to science, education, music, art and politics." Following that letter are others stating various takes on Freeman's statement and to the general idea of Black History Month, pro, con or in-between.
At BHPL, the monthly book display for February will feature books about the Civil Rights Movement, African-American history and biographies of notable African-Americans. School kids will stream into the Reference and Childrens Departments, assignments in hand, and we will do a brisk business helping the students learn to appreciate this part of their history curriculum. The kids can check out videos of Martin Luther King's speeches, jazz cd's and movies if they want to take a multimedia approach to their topics. They can also access thousands of primary sources, pictures, timelines, and biographies using the library's Facts on File African-American History History and Culture database. Research is much more fun and immediate than back in the days of the venerable Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature and I have never heard any complaints from the students. It is a little hard to steer the boys away from the famous athlete approach to this topic, but then again, the boys tend to pick biographies of athletes for their biography projects, their non-fiction projects and any other way they can shoehorn that common interest into their homework.
One of the best all around websites on the net is the Library of Congress's American Memory online collection which has a section on African American History. This includes a collection of interviews with 27 former slaves recorded from 1932 -1975. These interviews can be listened to from any computer with "Real Player" software and speakers or downloaded to an MP3 player. There is also a multi-format presentation about Baseball and Jackie Robinson with a baseball history timeline and historic photographs.
Links to other Black History websites: Kids Domain, Infoplease, Tennessee Tech, Cornell Africana Library.

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