Black History Month
Joe Courter
January/February 2003

That February is the shortest month of the year is symbolic of the short shrift black history gets in our schools and in our culture. But having a Black History month (or month and a half if the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday is added to it) is still an advance over the former malicious neglect prior to the civil rights movement, which forced America to look at its past and present.

So who is Black History Month for? Yes it's important for African Americans to know their history, but in reality a common history that all of us need to know. So how do we get it? Schools would be one place and there are struggles going on in communities across the country (Alachua County included) to bring in curriculum that more accurately reflects both the long scope of black history (such as the civilizations of Africa), and of the more recent times through slavery and segregation in America to the present.

A group of concerned citizens will again be bringing up the need for more Afrocentric curriculum at the Alachua County School Board meeting on Tuesday, February 4, at 7 p.m. This will be an opportunity to enlighten new school board members on the issue.

The other place to learn black history is through our media. Don't look for much from the corporate media, but they'll be a few bones tossed there. Public television and public radio are somewhat better, what follows will be some programming shown locally:

Public TV will be premiering a strong new documentary on the evening of January 20. "The Murder of Emmitt Till," the killing of a 14 year old youth by racist whites in 1955 Mississippi and then a subsequent acquittal which racheted the power of the civil rights movement as these events played out on a national stage. This documentary is made all the more poignant by the death of Till's mother in early January of this year. Her courage on insisting on an open casket at his funeral so the world could see what her son's murderers did to him gave backbone to the movement to come. That same night at 10 p.m. will be a documentary on Bayard Rustin, a prominent organizer of the civil rights movement whose homosexuality left him behind the scenes. These both air on January 20.

There will be a pair of programs on the PBS television schedule for January 22 and 23 revisiting Jasper, Texas, where whites dragged James Byrd to death. Wednesday January 22 will have "Two Towns of Jasper," a new documentary made by two film crews, one white and one black. The next night will be a live town meeting in Jasper, Texas. Both of these are at 9 p.m. In addition, on Wednesday the 22 a documentary on the Scottsboro Boys, a 1930's case of racist prosecution, will run at 10:30 p.m.

Another PBS double header is Monday, February 3 with a one hour documentary on the Tuskegee Airmen, the all-black fighter squadron of WWII at 9 p.m. Following will be "Freedom Never Dies"--the legacy of Harry T. Moore, a strong profile of an important though largely ignored Florida civil rights leader at 10 p.m.

WUFT FM has scheduled a number of political and cultural programs for the month of February. The Wednesday noontime (actually 12:10) public affairs slot has all black history, month offerings, highlighted by "American as Apple Pie--How segregation and terror lost 1940-1954" on the 5th and "Uncommon Courage, the Viola Liuzzo Story" on the 26th.

The Saturday evening slot will also feature special programming for February. February 8 "Caravan" will be preempted at 8 p.m. for a special mountain stage broadcast of civil rights and freedom songs. Then the next two weeks--Saturday the 15 and 22--there will be specials in the 9 p.m. slot following "Caravan."

A special evening broadcast of Alternative Radio on Wednesday February 26 will feature "Martin Luther King Jr. Beyond Vietnam, A Time to Break the Silence." This program will feature the words of Martin Luther King Jr. in the final year of his life when his message broadened from race to include economics, class, and foreign policy, especially his strong stand against the Vietnam War. This will air at 6:30 p.m. on February 26 following "All Things Considered."

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