Digging into why Black History Month is celebrated, Odessa College Executive Director of Student Learning Resources Denise Perdue dug back to the sources — Carter G. Woodson and President Gerald Ford.
Woodson was born to freed slaves. He wanted to find out more about himself, so he traveled the country and noticed that other people wrote down their histories, so why not African Americans. The biography.com website said Woodson dedicated himself to black history and lobbied to establish Black History Month.
It was Ford who established the month in 1976 “calling upon the public to ‘seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history,’” the History.com website said.
Perdue said it was illegal for black people to learn to read and write and the lives of anyone who taught them were in danger, as well. But Woodson saw others chronicling their history and thought it was equally as important for African Americans.
Director of Student Life Urisonya Flunder said so much of black history was suppressed intentionally because of slavery and other things happening.
He chose February as the month for Black History Month because it includes the birthdays of abolitionist Frederick Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln.
Perdue’s presentation also included showing a clip of an interview with actor Morgan Freeman and Mike Wallace about Black History Month. Freeman says he thinks the month is ridiculous. Wallace asked him how we can get rid of racism and Freeman said we should quit talking about it.
A poll of those attending the presentation in the Wood Math and Science Building at Odessa College Wednesday showed 57 percent agreed and 43 percent disagreed. The cell phone poll was anonymous and answered by about nine people.
She added that education is an opportunity to change people’s mindsets.
Perdue said she first heard of Woodson from an instructor at Hopkinsville Community College in Hopkinsville, Ky. Perdue, who started her academic career at the school, had already earned a bachelor’s degree and was working toward a master’s.
She told the instructor she wanted to do something different for Black History Month.
“I’d never heard of him,” Perdue said of Woodson. “My parents had not heard of him. My grandparents hadn’t heard of him, so that search began. It was exciting and thrilling,” Perdue said.
When she was teaching, Perdue said people wouldn’t shake her hand when she greeted them and she would be told when people talked to her on the phone that they didn’t know she was black. But she said at the end of a term, she has never had someone stay the same.
William Council, who used to be in prison ministry, said people look for identity and someplace to belong. Council added that he has learned a lot about the contributions blacks have made to society for everything from traffic lights to water guns.
“I thought it was incredibly informational,” Council said of the presentation. “I think Miss Denise did an awesome job of really breaking down the history of Black History Month and why it’s relevant today and bringing that information full circle to have a very in-depth conversation about that and how it relates to us today where we are.”