Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Black History Month, Celebrate!

Forced slavery in the United States ended as it was known, yet the former slaves in the South and border states were still subject to Jim Crow Laws: Required racial segregation.

From 1876 to 1964 Blacks in the South were subject to second class citizenship and relegated to use separate public restrooms, water fountains, restaurants,and public transportation just to mention a few. The right to a public education was scarce, and the Constitutional right to vote practically null as provided in the Jim Crow Laws of the South. They were subject to violence and death by racial bigotry, organized racism porliferated by the Ku Klux Klan, and any White that practiced blatant racism.

The North was growing as a result of industrialism and had a little more to offer Blacks. Although widespread racism and violence were not as prevalant, the North still had racial barriers. The boll weevil infestation in the 1910s in the South had a severe effect on the Black Sharecropper. With little cotton to market, there was little money to be made.

Racism and even fewer economic opportunities, combined, made the North a feasible alternative. With that in mind the Blacks of the South began to look to the golden streets of the North in search of a better life: This was the start of the "GreatMigration." From 1916 to 1970 approximately 7 million blacks migrated to Northern cities to claim the new life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness: the "American Dream."

Blacks moved to major cities in the North: New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Los Angeles, and more. As they acquired better education and employment they also developed and shared the art, music, and writing of Black folk in America.

The 1920s brought the emergence of Black writers, musicians, and artists in Harlem, New York City, New York. It was known as the Harlem Renaissance. The Harlem Renaissance flourished from the 1920s through 1930 at which time the aftermath of the Great Depression detracted from the merit of the Harlem Renaissance.

Nevertheless, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Claude McKay who broke the publishing color barrier in the 1922 release of his book "Harlem Shadows", James Weldon Johnson and his Brother, J.Rosamond Johnson, Paul Robeson all were key writers among countless others of their time.

Billie Holliday, Louis Armstrong, Marian Anderson, Josephine Baker,Cab Calloway,Pearl Bailey, Ethel Waters and Leontyne Price were among the who's who of Harlem Renaissance singers, musicians, and performers of the Harlem Renaissance.

Harlem Renaissance art still influences art today. Remembered in contemporary history for their art during the renaissance are William H. Johnson, Lois Mailou Jones, Sargent Claude Johnson, Jacob Lawrence, Archibald Motley, and Romare Bearden.

Just as the Harlem Renaissance was recognized a prominent black historian and prolific writer, Carter Goodwin Woodson found a need to observe Black History for the unsung and often significant accomplishments by Afro Americans in all segments of life in the United States.

In 1926 Woodson launched Negro History Week. He chose February because it was the birth month of President Abraham Lincoln, and Frederick Douglass, a gifted abolitionist and orater. By 1976 Negro History Week was expanded to a Month.

Today, even in Johnstown, Black History Month is celebrated. The area shows, exhibits, and workshops all celebrate the literature, art, music, and food from the rich experience of Black folks in the region and country. The February 5, 2008 edition of the Tribune Democrat announces the local events.

The Bottleworks Ethnic Arts Center in the Cambria City neighborhood of Johnstown has hosted some of the best Afro-American History Month celebrations in Johnstown. Since 2000 the Bottleworks hosted numerous local and nationally known artists, displays, literature, hat shows and cuisine.

Devon Haselrig, local musician and photodigital artist, was awarded the 2003 Bottleworks Excellence Award for the 2001 program expansion of the Afro-American History celebration at the Bottleworks.

Rosemary Pawlowski, Director Bottleworks Ethnic Arts Center, & Devon Haselrig, award recipient

Today, All About Us is the primary organization for Black History Month programming with the Bottleworks.

Throughout February take in a Black History Month event whether at the Bottleworks, Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center, or a local Afro-American church.