Black History Month

February is Black History Month.  Here you will find some of the people, organizations, and events that have shaped Black history and the history of the United States.

February 7--Only a Month?

How is the history of Black Americans a part of the history of the United States?

I posed this question to four of my colleagues who are teaching introductory courses on the history of the United States at Gonzaga this term.

"We begin [the class]," said one, "with the inauguration of a black president." This comment is indicative of the way that each course highlights some of the most significant events, trends, and people from the American past, and how some of these include well-known moments and figures from Black history.

This term, GU students will learn about the development of slavery in the colonial U.S., about Reconstruction and elective office (see graph below), about the Harlem Renaissance, Garveyism, and Black nationalism in addition to the Civil Rights Movement. Some of the materials students will read include Booker T. Washington's Up from Slavery and Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun. Students will come to understand the way that Americans divided labor, freedom, and power in the Early Republic using race - and used the law, police power, and social pressures to enforce this separation over time.

The GU history faculty offered many and varied replies. What is clear from their responses is that we cannot begin to understand the history of the United States without an understanding of Black history. Indeed, they indicate that Black history is inseparable from U.S. history.

But how significant is Black history beyond our university classrooms? Does the average American (of any background) consider Black history American history? Do they only think about Black history in February or on the MLK holiday?

These are some of the questions that the film "More than a Month" explores. Next Tuesday, February 12th, Gonzaga will offer a free screening of "More than a Month" and will host Filmaker Shukree Hassan Tilghman. Tilgham posed the question should Black History Month be abolished. And he elicited strong reactions from a variety of different perspectives. More details are here:

~Veta Schlimgen, Department of History


February 4--Paul Robeson

Paul Robeson

Paul Robeson seemed to excel at everything he did.

As a teenager, he won a scholarship to attend Rutgers University. In college, Robeson became an All-American football player, an outstanding student, and a celebrated singer. When he graduated in 1919, his fellow students (most of whom were white) elected him valedictorian. Robeson continued his studies at Columbia Law School - while also playing ball for the National Football League. Before earning his law degree, Robeson got a part in a New York theater production and this launched his career as a performer.

Robeson is perhaps best known for his acting and singing career - and for being added to the Hollywood blacklist during the McCarthy era.

Robeson was an uncompromising civil rights activist. His association with trade unions and civil rights organizations attracted the scrutiny of the House Un-American Activities Committee. When called before the Committee, Robeson refused to reveal his political affiliation under their scrutiny. Though he remained an active performer and political activist, Robeson struggled to recover from this Cold-War era witch hunt.

This Wednesday, February 6th, the Bing Crosby Theater will present a one-night only performance of "Call Mr. Robeson," featuring the life, music, and work of this fascinating American entertainer and activist.  Visit the theater website for more information:

February 1--Freedom and the Building of the U.S.

Statue of Freedom

The Capitol Building, where the U.S. Congress meets, finally reached completion in 1863 when workmen installed the "Statue of Freedom" on the Capitol dome. Ironically, unfree Americans built this symbol of freedom - and the building where it sits.

Congress commissioned sculptor Thomas Crawford to design the "Statue of Freedom" in 1855. Crawford designed the statue in Rome and sent it in pieces to local foundry in Maryland for the final casting. Under the direction of Philip Reid, an enslaved craftsman, workers reassembled the statue. Records kept at the foundry show that Reid put in long hours over the course of three years in order to complete the statue. He contributed his expert skills to an American architectural treasure.

Reid's life and his work are significant to the stories we tell about the U.S. past. His experiences offer details about the lives of enslaved Americans, who included farm laborers, house servants, and skilled artisans. Reid's story is just one example of the millions of stories of unsung Americans who lived under slavery and whose work was essential to the building of the United States.

Historical Sidenote:

The statue that Reid assembled was itself at the heart of controversies over American slavery.

Sculptor Thomas Crawford's original design for the "Statue of Freedom" featured a woman wearing a liberty cap (see photo). The liberty cap elicited strong objections from southerners, including Secretary of War Jefferson Davis. While the liberty cap had been a symbol of republican liberty in the new American republic of the 1770s and 1780s, Davis objected to the liberty cap on this statue because of its connection to slavery in ancient Rome. In the Roman Empire, emancipated slaves received a liberty cap and wore it as a sign of their status as free men. As one of the South's most prominent slave owners, Davis objected to all suggestions - including the liberty cap - of the end of slavery in the United States. In Crawford's final design for the Statue of Freedom, liberty wears a feathered helmet.  For more information on Reid and the Statue of Freedom, go to

Statue of Freedom detail 2Statue of Freedom detail 1