During the final week of Black History Month, the Ethnic and Gender studies program hosted presentations from speakers covering issues from black literature to how geography and race interact.
Both stressed the importance of celebrating black life throughout the year.
“I really think there is some value to reading (Romance in Marseille) as a sort of plague text…in that the world we are coming out of in the Pandemic and the one she faced are radically different than (what we were used to),” said Gary Holcomb, professor of African American Literature and Studies at Ohio university. “Claude McKay said (to a publisher) that, ‘I don’t give a damn about art that isn’t propaganda,’…I think I want my work and art to mean something.”
Holcomb presented over the lifelong effort it took to publish the near century old manuscript of Romance in Marseille by McKay and answered questions about it afterwards to an audience of about 16 students and faculty.
Hannah Maxwell, senior history major asked if the novel and its focus on black and queer communities could still be considered revolutionary today.
“I think it does,” Holcomb said. “It still does do that cultural labor and I am not surprised that people had responded to it the way they did back then, you know.”
At the time of the presentation the Westboro Baptist Church had not yet come to Americus, but Holcomb said that he hoped McKay’s story could offer people an opportunity to reflect at such a difficult time.
“I don’t want to be optimistic in this time of the pandemic, but maybe more people can use this time to reflect on themselves and the assumptions they make about others,” Holcomb said. “I think this time offers a lot of opportunities for transformation.”
In a similar vain the first speaker of the 2021 EGSTALKs program, Douglas Allen, assistant professor of Geography at ESU, talked about Florida A&M’s Marching 100 and how spaces can define us.
“Different communities can have very different visions of place and all of them are operating at the same time simultaneously,” Allen said. “Florida State is a football school, but it also is a school that uses a racist mascot… so we have to understand that places are multiple and whose vision of place we are engaging with can have a lot of connection to belonging and whose vision seems like it belongs in the public sphere and whose vision is ostracized in the public sphere.”
According to Allen everything from preventing the historically black university to marching outside the predominately black communities of Tallahassee, to which college’s merchandise is displayed prominently throughout the city can impact that sense of belonging. Allen said that there are numerous ways we can affirm black lives in our communities.
“In a world where often times black lives are devalued, the simple act of engaging in wearing your mask and the masking activity is an affirmation that black lives matter and you aren’t going to be a community member that is going to endanger other black lives,” Allen said. “I think it’s a beautiful way of how engaging in this practice of family and wearing the mask actually is another way of affirming that black lives matter in the campus spaces that they are in.”
While the end of February may signal the end of Black History Month, celebrations around black culture and history are ongoing.
“Geography is not just about making maps but how humans interact with their spaces and how those impact our social identity and understanding of our culture,” said Mallory Koci, director of Ethnic and Gender studies. “Our learning and celebrations do not end with the calendar date.”
As part of the Ethnic and Gender studies steering committee, Koci said that while visiting speakers can always offer unique perspectives it is good to hear from members of the campus community who may not have a chance to talk about the projects they are working on.
“We are always working with faculty, staff and students to come up with ideas,” Koci said. “I think it is important that we are working with them and trying to hear from members of the community.”
To see a collection of Black History Month events at Emporia State visit the living archive at www.hornet.digital/mlk-day-black-history-month.