Speakers want black history in more SIU classes

By Gus Bode

When Norma Ewing came to SIUC as an undergraduate, Black History Month was nothing but a whisper on campus.

Now, 30 years later, Black History Month is an event to be celebrated, but there is still more work to be done, the associate dean of the College of Education and Human Services said.

Ewing and other speakers, including one student and another faculty member, explained the impact of Black History Month on higher education to a packed crowd Tuesday night at the Faculty House on Elizabeth Street.


Maria Stuart, a senior studying University Studies from Chicago, said black history is missing from many SIUC classes, like literature and music history. Stuart said although authors such as Shakespeare and Henry Wordsworth Longfellow are amazing poets, other black writers like Maya Angelou and Richard Wright should be included into regular literature programs.

History professor Ruth McClelland said the integration of black history courses into higher education settings will have a trickle-down affect.

“If we can attack this at the graduate level, then it will integrate to the undergraduate level,” McClelland said after the speech.

In her speech, Pamela Smoot, associate professor of Black American Studies, said the University could help students break racial lines if SIUC offered Black American Studies classes in the core curriculum.

Smoot also spoke about Carter G. Woodson as the “father of Black History Month.” Woodson initiated Black History Week in 1926, then known as Negro History Week. Woodson chose February because of the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. By the 1970s, this celebration had expanded to the entire month.

“Blacks should be proud of their heritage, and others should understand it,” Smoot said, quoting Woodson.

Mike Lawrence, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, attended the meeting and said black history is vital for all courses at SIUC.


“It is important to all students at SIU, especially African Americans, that we have courses that focus on black American history and that black American history becomes an important element in all courses,” Lawrence said.

Provost John Dunn said Wednesday that resources are not available to expand the Black American Studies program, not even to include it as a major degree program. Dunn said he hopes the program will benefit from the three faculty hires that were allotted by the chancellor’s Faculty Hiring Initiative.

Smoot referred to a story about a student who did not understand black history.

While discussing the little accommodations the slave owners allowed slaves in the South, one student said it appeared that slaves’ lives in America were better because they didn’t have to hunt for their own food.

Smoot said students like this could be helped with proper education in black history.

She said she hopes to keep everyone who takes her classes informed on black history.

“I hope I can continue to raise the consciousness of students,” Smoot said.

Although the University has many events and speakers during the month of February, Ewing said more could be done to celebrate and educate.

“I would like to see black history become an integral part of every month,” Ewing said.

Reporter Matthew McConkey can be reached at [email protected]