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Racial issues forum celebrates black history

Tricia De Groot | Friday, February 13, 2004

Three Notre Dame history professors specializing in racial issues kicked off a celebration of Black History Month when they spoke at a forum in Welsh Family Hall on Thursday night.Welsh multicultural commissioners Arienne Thompson and Shawtina Ferguson facilitated the event and invited their past and current professors Emily Osborn, Tom Guglielmo and Richard Pierce to attend the event and share their own reflections on black history with students.Guglielmo began with an account of a life-altering book about the Civil Rights Movement that his sister gave him as a Christmas present in 1989. He said the book, “Parting the Waters” by Taylor Branch, influenced his decision to become a history major. Contrasting Branch’s unusual focus on ordinary people with the usual focus on more prominent figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., Guglielmo praised their willingness to jump to action.”If these folks can do it, why can’t I take an active role and try and bring about a more just society?” asked Guglielmo. Guglielmo said he appreciated the achievements of these “everyday folks determined that they could make a difference.” The ordinary people were what made the Civil Rights Movement a national success, he said. “These struggles are still very much alive today, but we cannot allow that reality to deemphasize the achievements of this movement,” Guglielmo said. “We can all make a difference if we organize, mobilize and are determined.” Following Guglielmo’s presentation, Osborn spoke to the group about African history in Sierra Leone, Africa. She emphasized the ties that this country shares with the United States and how important it has been to African history. She said Sierra Leone served as an example of cultural and race relations far ahead of their time and expressed her hope that, through this example, people would see Africa in a more positive light.While negative perception of current events often “erases this complex, very rich past,” Osborn said, her goal is “to show the ties the United States shares with Africa.” The last professor to speak, Richard Pierce, told his audience that “people believe African American history is a history of trauma.” However, Pierce said he views African American history as a history of resistance.”If resistance is the lens through which I see African American history,” Pierce asked, “then what is the resistance to follow?”Pierce also described the boxing match involving Floyd Patterson and Sonny Liston as a clash Americans viewed as “good versus evil, evil versus acceptable.” Pierce further related this event to his theme of resistance.”Resistance is the base,” he said. “How to resist has always been the question.”The evening concluded with an opportunity to speak with the professors when the floor was opened up for questions.