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Black History Month program examines legacies of Washington, Du Bois

JACKSON, Tenn.Feb. 28, 2007 – Union University recognized February as Black History Month with its first Black History Month program Feb. 23, highlighted by featured speaker Camille Searcy, education professor at Union.

Searcy spoke on “The Educational Philosophies of W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington,” which coincided with the national theme for this year’s Black History Month, “From Slavery to Freedom: The Story of Africans in the Americas.”

Searcy began with a background look at the United States after the Civil War. “According to many historians, the Civil War changed how Americans thought about themselves and the world,” Searcy said.

She citied the discrepancy between the national government’s passage of laws such as the Civil Rights Act and the Reconstruction Acts, and the South’s response with the passage of Jim Crow laws, which continued to segregate and oppress African Americans.

“The question in the South became, ‘What will we do about education in the South?’ which translated to ‘Should colored children have the same opportunities as white children?’” Searcy said.

Du Bois and Washington strove to answer that question in two different ways.

“No two American leaders — particularly African-American leaders — have stood in such contrast,” Searcy said.

Washington, born in a slave shack, founded the Tuskegee Institute in 1881 and was an advocate for vocational training for African Americans. He was “willing to take the slow road,” said Searcy, in the quest for racial equality in education. His idea was simply for African-Americans to be able to support themselves, and Searcy said he wasn’t overly concerned about integration.

Du Bois, by contrast, was “proud and outspoken,” a free man born in Massachusetts. He was the first African American to receive a Doctor of Philosophy degree and was the founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Upon his move from the North to Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., Du Bois was shocked by the segregation he witnessed, and the lack of opportunities for African-Americans. His goal was for African-Americans to have more equality, Searcy said. He wanted them not only to have jobs, but to have jobs equal to those of whites.

Searcy concluded by challenging African-Americans to learn from the examples of both men, and to be innovative in striving for equality in areas where it doesn’t exist.

“What are our challenges today?” Searcy asked. “What will history say about us?”

The program opened with remarks by Jacqueline Taylor, assistant dean of students and director of career services.

“We are all brothers and sisters in Christ,” Taylor said. For reflection she posed the question of W.E.B. Du Bois, “Would America have been America without her negro people?”

Union students Shawanda Richardson and Tianikwa Haywood, who were instrumental in spearheading the program, participated by welcoming members of the Jackson and Union community and sharing Scripture, respectively.

Biographical sketches of prominent African-American leaders throughout America’s history followed, given by Union students and alumna. Edric Gaylor spoke on former slave Frederick Douglass, who encouraged his fellow African-Americans to “strive earnestly to add to your knowledge in order to gain respect of those around you.”

Katelynn Johnson drew attention to Maya Angelou, the writer and former U.S. poet laureate who used her creative talents to encourage others to continue to fight for equality and rise above racism.

Phylis Anyango, Kenyan native and Union alumna, underscored the life of Nelson Mandela, who fought for the freedom of Africans under the government-sanctioned segregation of apartheid in South Africa. Anyango reminded those present of the worldwide nature of the struggle for equality, and quoted Mandela, “For with freedom comes responsibility.”

Gaylor concluded the sketches with a portrait of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., quoting an excerpt from his well-known “I Have a Dream” speech.

Searcy was introduced by her husband, Lonnie Searcy, who in June 1966 became the first black student to attend and later graduate from Union.

Union President David S. Dockery concluded the evening.

“I think that we are all becoming more aware of both our hidden and open prejudices, and by God's grace all of us can move beyond these barriers to become agents of reconciliation to a broken and alienated world,” Dockery said. “We have made much progress in the area of racial reconciliation in recent years at Union University, but we have many steps yet to take, which we must take together.”

By Alex Scarbrough (’08)

Related Resource(s): Photo Gallery
Media contact: Tim Ellsworth, news@uu.edu, 731-661-5215

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