June 18, 2024

The month of February marks the beginning of Black History month, a part of American history that is celebrated across the United States. During February, the country takes time to remember the suffrage and civil rights activism that black individuals have brought to this country.

“We celebrate our ancestors and recognize their fights, struggles, inventions and glorify their strength,” Seneca Neil, ‘20, said.

Spending time during the month to remember and educate yourself about important figures like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks helps to shed light on those individuals that might not get the kind of recognition that they deserve in the history books.

The holiday started back in 1926 with the celebration of professor Carter G. Woodson. Often referred to as the “Father of Black History,” Woodson wanted African Americans to be proud of their heritage and to educate Americans on the African American contribution to the nation’s history. He intentionally chose the second week of February to start the celebration, making sure to include Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass’ birthday.

Eventually, in 1986, Congress declared Black History Month a national holiday by law.

At Witt, Broadwell Chinn made history as the school’s first black student. After applying in 1874, faculty were hesitant to admit him in fear of mixing races in the classrooms. The Board of Directors received copious amounts of backlash for this decision, and eventually released a statement saying that Witt’s constitution, “opens the door of the college to all persons of proper qualifications irrespective of color.”

Years later, Witt now offers a scholarship in his name starting at $17,000 and is awarded to selected students who identify “themselves as being minority and/or from underrepresented background and who have shown overall academic achievement and leadership.”

Current students, like Neil, recognize Chinn “as being the first to push this institution to accept blacks and has paved the way for there to be organizations and spaces for black students on campus.”

Chinn isn’t the only influential individual of color to students at Witt. Neal said she finds singer, songwriter and civil rights activist Nina Simone a role model in the black community because she “was unapologetic for being herself and black.”

“I also love music and think that music can get across to all people,” Neal said. “She used her music to tell stories of [black people] to the rest of the world and I think that is such a powerful platform.”

As a university, Witt hosts many programs throughout the month to help educate students about black history. Discussions about lynching in America, Frederick Douglass’ contribution to the anti-slavery movement and state-sanctioned violence against individuals of color are just a few of the upcoming programs this month.

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