Black History Month is a time to recognize and honor the contributions of African Americans. However, Cherisse Jones-Branch, the Vaughn Endowed Professor of History at Arkansas State University, says it’s problematic for people to discuss Black history only once a year. February is a time to highlight these stories, she says, but it should not be the only time people are talking about them.
“If you feel like you’re only hearing about it one time out of the year, who’s fault is that is basically what I’m asking,” she says. “If you want to know more, do more, learn more so that you can be engaging this every day if you wish.”
Stephanie Sims is the museum director for the University Museum and Cultural Center at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. She sees Black History Month as an opportunity to be creative and share the stories of African Americans that aren’t as well-known as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Rosa Parks.
“When you get off and you start talking about people like Silas Hunt or Samuel Kountz — and especially with them being from Arkansas, and all of us being from Arkansas — and you bring forth our history, that’s representation right there, especially when you’re a native of the area,” Sims says.
Black history is part of Arkansas history and it should be taught in schools, says Christina Shutt, executive director of the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center. When teaching that history, is should include all African Americans, but Cherisse Jones-Branch says oftentimes Black history education omits certain people.
“When people talk about African American history, they’re talking about men,” she says. “When they talk about women’s history, they’re talking about white women. Neither one of those perspectives represents me or women like me, which is why this work is so absolutely crucial.”
You can hear more from this conversation by listening to the audio file at the top of this page.