Black History Month, which was officially recognized in the 1970s, is not only a celebration of people and events throughout Black history, but it is also a reminder of the freedom now held by those in the Pan-African diaspora. An accomplishment I feel may be taken for granted. In our modern institutional settings, where Black contributions are oftentimes overlooked, the month of February provides us with an important reminder of where we have come from, and what we can achieve. But what does the view of Black excellence look like from an ivory tower? Cornell University does have a historic commitment to diversity, which is in tune with its mission, “any person … any study,” created during the founding of the University.
In celebration of Black History Month, Cornell faculty, students and administrators gathered at a panel discussion called “A Brief History of Black Education in America: Ithaca and beyond” yesterday to look back on the cultural impact of black education in America.
Moderated by Eric Acree, director of the John Henrik Clarke Africana Library, the discussion began with a reflection upon African American education in historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in the mid to early 19th century.
At that time, African Americans were restricted in their opportunities for higher learning. The HBCUs tried to fill the gap by providing “a rich set of educational programs,” said Ira Revels, senior associate librarian at Olin Library.
This year’s Black History Month comes at a pivotal time in the history of both America and Cornell. The first Black president was inaugurated in January, and this April marks the 40th anniversary of the Willard Straight Hall takeover.
Ernie Jolly ’09, president of Black Students United, views Obama’s inauguration as the top rung on a long ladder extending through history — an image displayed on the Black History Month flyers around campus.
The BSU is sponsoring a series of discussions and dinners this month, the first of which was held yesterday in Robert Purcell Community Center. The African, Latino, Asian and Native American Programming Board’s annual commemorative ceremony for the Willard Straight Hall takeover in April is likely to hold special significance this year.