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Recap of "Black Resistance" Hot Topics
Joy Dickinson |
Published on 2/9/2023
“Every voice matters,” moderator Valada Flewellyn said as she began the Black History Month Hot Topics program with a reference to the lyrics of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” often called the Black national anthem. But in America’s past, she said, Black voices have been silenced or muffled.
In the program that followed, Flewellyn and speakers Patricia Broussard and Don Harrell aimed to address how Black Americans have raised their voices and resisted.
The truth is, Flewellyn said to applause, that “the issue of race is central to the American story.”
Flewellyn, Broussard and Harrell are part of the Central Florida-Dorothy Turner Johnson Branch of the national Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), founder of Black History Month. The three-part program they presented reflected ASALH’S theme for 2023, “Black Resistance.”
Broussard, a law professor, began her talk about the history of Black women’s resistance by thanking the audience for being there.
“It takes courage to be woke,” she said to applause. “Woke” simply means being awake, not asleep to the truths of history, she noted, describing the agency and strength of Black women beginning with their resistance on the passage across the Atlantic from Africa.
“Enslaved people were not content and docile creatures,” Broussard noted. “Resistance was a way of life for many and showed itself in many ways,” even as Black women were often portrayed in white culture through stereotypes of “Mammy” or “Jezebel” that ignored their strength and humanity.
Harrell, an expert in Afro musicology, linked the spirit of Black resistance to the artistic heritage of African Americans. He described the threads that run through the Black music, from spirituals and gospel to rhythm and blues, hip-hop, and rap.
The “soul of the music could not be stifled despite the tragedy of the situation,” he said. Characteristics such as lyrics that have double meanings run through Black American music, from its earliest to modern forms.
Flewellyn turned to the importance of voting as resistance and briefly described the history in Orange County of the 1920 Ocoee Massacre, in which the attempts of Black citizens to vote played a central role.
“This history belongs to us,” she said: “it’s our responsibility to tell it.” Quoting civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer in 1971, Flewellyn ended with Hamer’s declaration that “No one is free until everyone is free.”
Members’ questions to the panel addressed social media’s effect on how young people understand history, and also the effects of recent laws and other actions by Florida officials to curtail how Black history is taught.
In responding, panelists noted that it’s important to remember that Black history is not a separate history — it is American history, our shared history.
Harrell noted that history shows us that when progress is made about race relations in America, there’s always a pushback afterward; at the same time, restrictions such as current book bans are likely to awaken more folks to resist.
In closing the program, Orange County League member Tiffany Hughes stressed the importance of getting out the vote and establishing safe spaces for democracy to thrive: work to which the League remains dedicated.
Hughes also addressed the absence of the third speaker originally announced on the program: Prof. Carmen Laguer Diaz of Valencia College’s Anthropology Department and co-director of the Proyecto Arqueológico del Suroeste (PASO), or the Archaeological Project of Southwest Puerto Rico.
“I would be remiss if we did not also acknowledge Prof. Carmen Diaz, who is not tenured at Valencia College,” Hughes said. “We see the echoes of voting, and a lack of voting, reverberating into our education system. In this environment, we know why we have an empty chair.”
Notes: ASALH’s 2023 theme, “Black Resistance,” focusses on how African Americans have resisted historic and ongoing oppression, in all forms, to advocate for a dignified self-determined life in a just democratic society in the United States and beyond. For more information, visit asalh.org/black-history-themes.
Moderator: Valada Flewellyn, historian, author, poet, and storyteller
Prof. Patricia Broussard, Florida A&M University College of Law
Prof. Don Harrell, CEO and President of African Diasporic Arts and Education Inc.
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