The contributions of African Americans were recognized around the Province in February during Black History Month. Music, prayer, art and lectures were used to commemorate this national event, established nearly 40 years ago.
In North Carolina, the community of St. Francis Springs Prayer Center held its first commemoration with presentations of music, poetry and stories. David Hyman, OFM, organized the Feb. 15 program. He arranged similar programs when he was stationed at University of Georgia’s Catholic Center.
“We filled the chapel, which holds 100 people,” said David, who serves as chair of the province’s African Ancestry Committee. Our program was planned for 1 1/2 hours. It lasted 2 1/2 hours, and no one seemed to mind. We had some history, some gospel, some jazz, and some poetry.
“Possibly, the highlight of the afternoon was a blues singer and storyteller, Logie Meachum, from nearby Greensboro,” David added. “He sang ‘Deep River’ and reminded us this was sung by the slaves who were about to leave South Carolina and Georgia to cross over into North Carolina, the first leg of the Underground Railroad.”
After the program, attendees were served a dinner prepared by Louis Canino, OFM, director of the 10-year-old center.
“All left fed on several levels,” said David. “We don’t quite know what we might come up with next year to equal it.”
In Wilmington, Del., St. Joseph Parish’s commemoration lasted more than three weeks. The parish kicked off its varied Black History Month events on Jan. 31 with an annual ecumenical prayer breakfast. The theme of the sold-out event was “Let There Be Peace.”
Paul Williams, OFM, pastor, said “unless we share our history — both oral and written — with young people of all cultures, the great works of African Americans will not be known. This history is not taught with any detail in schools. It’s essential that the Church help to teach about these great contributions.”
On Feb. 1, parishioner Mikayla Purnell, 14, delivered a presentation highlighting the life of Nelson Mandela. Also, “James Newton, professor from the University of Delaware and authorized speaker from the Delaware Humanities Forum, presented a talk about the civil rights,” said staff member Loretta Young. “He expressed an urgency for individuals to get involved in the issues of poverty and violence that have contributed to a sense of hopelessness within communities. A snowstorm did not deter parishioners from attending this event.”
The following Sunday, a program, sponsored by the Ladies Auxiliary of the Knights of Peter Claver, focused on voting rights. At the Feb. 15 event, Mikayla Purnell presented excerpts from the speech by Martin Luther King Jr., “Give Us the Ballot.” Kyle Hopson presented excerpts from President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Voting Rights” address that responded to King’s speech from eight years earlier.
Festivities at the 125-year-old parish concluded Feb. 22 with a soul food luncheon “for the brave and faithful souls who traversed the icy weather conditions,” said Young.
Parishioners emphasized the need to continue to researching and educate the world about the contributions African Americans have made to the United States.
“Often times these contributions are unknown, or worse, overlooked or devalued,” said Young. “February is just one way to highlight the economic, cultural and technical contributions made by African Americans.”
Displaying Art and Dance
In South Carolina, St. Anthony of Padua School in Greenville planned a Black History Month program, but the event had to be postponed because of snow and ice. The program, now scheduled for March 4, includes student portrayals of famous African-American figures of church and state, a step dance performed by students, live percussion with traditional African dancing and singing by the St. Anthony Mixed Choir.
During February, first grade students created mosaic collage portraits of the four black Catholic candidates for sainthood. Also, several grades attended a program Tuesday about quilting and the Underground Railroad.
Members of the Greenville Senior Action Quilting Club visited the school and shared their quilts and the history of quilt codes used in the Underground Railroad, said Susan Cinquemani of the mission advancement team. In October 2014, the parish with strong roots in the African-American community commemorated its 75th anniversary.
Patrick Tuttle, OFM, pastor of St. Anthony Parish, has said “African-American genius has been described as gift, hidden and precious. A Franciscan, in particular, will relate this African-American reality with the experience of Francis himself, and to the themes of mother, flesh, story, humility, servant, community and grace.”
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.