A look back at Black history, legacy
February marks Black History Month, an occasion to celebrate Black culture and the legacy it has made on American society.
UH is embedded in rich Black history, which means many students at the University takes pride in having African American roots. That also means the University itself is hosting its own array of events to mark the next few weeks.
UH has been an institution since 1927, but their first Black student wasn’t admitted until 1961. That individual was a graduate student, and the school didn’t admit Black undergraduates until two years later, according to UH spokesperson Chris Stipes.
History and African American Studies professor Gerald Horne attributes the desegregation of the University to the institution’s desire to expand their athletic reach.
“As for UH, it was an apartheid campus from its inception circa 1927 and only began to change when the nation began to change in the 1960s,” Horne said. “Part of this desegregation had to do with sports and the desire of UH to compete on the gridiron, in track and field and on the basketball court which led to the recruitment of (people like) Warren McVea, Andre Ware, Elvin Hayes, Don Chaney and Carl Lewis.”
Eight years after admitting their first Black graduate student, the school made some more progress in attempting desegregation of the University.
“In 1969, UH became the first state university in Texas to establish an African American Studies program,” Stipes said. “We are (also) proud to say that the first Black woman to lead a major American University was Marguerite Ross Barnett, UH’s eighth president.”
Other prominent Black women at the University include Lynn Eusan, who was crowned as UH’s first African American homecoming queen in November 1968, during a time when the University had a predominantly white student population, according to Stipes.
“Eusan used her platform as UH’s first African American homecoming queen to unite people of all colors, and her actions were instrumental in creating policies and programs which still exist today, including the UH African American Studies program, which was co-founded by Eusan,” Stipes said.
Black culture today
The University prides itself now as “one of the most racially diverse (universities) in the country,” according to Stipes.
Organizations such as the African Student Union, African Pharmacy Student Association and a number of Greek life organizations have been able to show their Black pride and culture while building a sense of community at the University.
The Black Student Union is one such organization, and their vice president, Alexis Davis Thomas is proud to celebrate her culture this month.
“Black culture is in everything; the music, the people, the flavor that black people have, it’s just something you can’t necessarily get, it’s a natural thing,” Thomas said. “It’s something that you’re born with, and you take it and make it your own. That’s what I’ve always appreciated about my people in our culture.”
She says BSU has given her a platform to speak her mind, which helps her develop better public speaking skills and stand her ground, especially as a Black woman.
“It’s just like the idea that people think that women who speak up are known as aggressive or people won’t be able to respect you, because you’re talking so much like, I don’t care about none of it,” she said. “At the end, the day, I was giving a voice for a reason, and I feel like Black women are starting to use their voice and understand their power more and more every day.”
The union is using this month to host their very own “BSU Week,” where they will host a week of events celebrating and teaching Black culture at the University.
“We’ll basically be doing something every day,” Thomas said. “We have some seminars, we have some public speaking going on. Just different stuff that we’re trying to do in February. It’s such a big one for us, so I’m excited.”
BSU will be posting the events they plan on having on their social media. Other events students can plan to attend are hosted by the University. Some lectures, movies and performances will be held to mark the month, including events related to the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
As for learning about Black culture on your own time, Horne recommends educating yourself on issues affecting the Black community.
“Today, there is a demagogic campaign against ‘Critical Race Theory,’ which at root is designed to obscure, distort or ignore knotty issues e.g. slavery and Jim Crow (official U.S. racism),” Horne said. “This campaign is hampering mightily the attempt to educate our youth.”
Thomas also adds that this month is a good reminder for people to acknowledge the respect Black people deserve for the legacy they have left on the country.
“Just understand that there’s this level of respect, that you kind of have respect and appreciation because I feel like there are so many trends that are happening right now. You know, a lot of people kind of forget that we started them,” Thomas said. “So I would say, join in on the celebration, with an open mind and an open understanding that this is just, it’s bigger than one month. It’s bigger than, maybe a few days out of the year.”