When president Gerald Ford announced the adoption of February as Black History Month as an official government observance in 1976, he called it an “opportunity to honor the too-often-neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” Now, 37 years later, the necessity for Black History Month has become a matter of dispute, and not just by white racists; prominent African American actor Morgan Freeman, for one, has been quoted as calling the practice “ridiculous.”
Even the man who first proposed what started as Negro History Week in 1926, historian Carter G. Woodson, is said to have hoped that one day the need for such an observation would be eliminated, because American schools would teach the histories of all peoples all year long – not just the socioeconomic elite. Surely we’ve made some progress in that direction since 1976; but the persistence of racism in our society – so harshly illuminated in recent years by the virulence of public resistance to the idea of being governed by a black president – suggests that we may still have a long way to go. White kids as well as black ones need to have some heroes and role models who are people of color before we can all move on from the bad old days. And the educational events organized around Black History Month are still helping us get there.
In the mid-Hudson region, we are fortunate to have a world-class local black heroine of both the Abolitionist and Women’s Rights movements, Sojourner Truth, firmly ensconced in local lore. We’ve been stirred by her “Ain’t I a woman?” speech, but how many of us know when we’re actually walking in her footsteps in Ulster County? The buildings where she once lived and worked mostly no longer exist, but one can still retrace her flight from slavery from West Park to Rifton to New Paltz and beyond. A local history tour called “On the Trail of Sojourner Truth” will be one of the highlights of the Town of Rosendale’s monthlong celebration of black history. Participants will meet up at the Rosendale Youth Center on Saturday, February 16 at 1 p.m. for a three-hour bus tour of sites associated with the great orator and antislavery activist. The first 12 registrants will get bus seats; everyone else will need to car pool or caravan. E-mail Kathy Wade pronto at [email protected] to sign up.
Rosendale kicks off its commemoration of Black History Month this Saturday, February 2, with a family-friendly afternoon event at the American Legion Hall – Tillson Post 1219 called “Right Side Up: Civil Rights through Story, Song & Puppets.” It runs from 1 to 4 p.m. and features Fre Atlast, Tara Burke, Victoria Christgau, Amadou Diallo and Amy Trompetter. If you recognize the names of some of your favorite local African drumming virtuosi among that lineup, you know that this will be an infectiously rhythm-propelled performance that will appeal to kids and grownups alike. E-mail Maryellen Whittington-Couse at [email protected] for more details.
On Tuesday, February 12 at the Rosendale Recreation Center, perhaps our most eminent local scholar of black history, Dr. A. J. Williams-Myers, longtime head of the Black Studies Department at SUNY-New Paltz, will give a historical overview called “There Is a River – A Mighty River: Social and Economic Contributions of Africans along the Hudson from the Dutch Period to the American Revolution.” The presentation will run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. For more info call the Rosendale Library at (845) 658-9013.
On Monday, February 18 from 2 to 6 p.m., Fre Atlast, Tara Burke and Amy Trompetter will return to present a President’s Day Workshop & Performance called “Right Side Up: Making Puppet Shows from Stories & Songs about the Life of Sojourner Truth.” It’ll take place at the Rosendale Recreation Center, and there will be pizza, snacks and a discussion moderated by Evelyn Clarke, director of the Ulster County Human Rights Commission. The workshop is geared for children ages 8 to 14 and requires advance registration by calling Tara Burke at (845) 658-8198 or e-mailing [email protected].
Finally, on Sunday, February 24 from 2 to 3:30 p.m., the Rosendale Library will host a book discussion on Lalita Tademy’s Cane River, a work of historical fiction set on a 19th-century Creole plantation in Louisiana. Copies of the book may be borrowed through the Mid-Hudson Library System or with help from the Rosendale Library Circulation Desk; call the Library at (845) 658-9013 to find out more.
So you can add serious fun surrounding Black History Month to the list of celebrations like the Rosendale Street Festival, the Pickle Festival, the Earth Fest & Energy Expo and Frozendale that strengthen Rosendale’s claim to the title of “the Festival Town.” All of the events listed are free and open to the public.
Free Black History Month in Rosendale events: “Right Side Up: Civil Rights through Story, Song & Puppets,” Saturday, February 2, 1-4 p.m., American Legion Hall – Tillson Post 1219, 794 Springtown Road, Tillson; [email protected]. “There Is a River – A Mighty River: Social and Economic Contributions of Africans along the Hudson from the Dutch Period to the American Revolution,” Tuesday, February 12, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Rosendale Recreation Center, 1055 Route 32, Rosendale; (845) 658-9013. “On the Trail of Sojourner Truth” bus tour, Saturday, February 16, 1-4 p.m.; [email protected]. “Right Side Up: Making Puppet Shows from Stories & Songs about the Life of Sojourner Truth,” Monday, February 18, 2-6 p.m.; (845) 658-8198, [email protected]. Cane River book discussion, Sunday, February 24, 2-3:30 p.m., Rosendale Library; (845) 658-9013.