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EIU History Professors Reflect on African-American History Month

Feb-26-2014

“Recognizing African-American history as an awareness month is important, but it is not enough,” said Debra Reid, EIU history professor. “Our society needs to continue to discuss African-American history all year long.”

As the end of African-American History Month approaches, EIU history professors like Reid reflect on why studying African-American history is simply not just a monthly endeavor. Throughout the year, these professors spend hours researching and teaching Africana and African history in their classrooms.

“African-American history affects all the courses I teach from my history of Illinois course to my graduate class in the Historical Administration program,” she said.

In her research, Reid focuses on rural and ethnic minorities after the Civil War where she specializes in documenting black land owning farmers. While History Professor Charles Foy incorporates his research of black mariners in the Atlantic World in his own class called “The Black Atlantic.”

“I focus on how Africans attained freedom and if their freedom changed,” he said. Both Foy and Reid understand the fragility of freedom, and how changes in movement would change the status of an African’s freedom during that time.

“There was a long battle for African-Americans, and there has to be current awareness because history shows rights are fragile,” she said.

While African-American history should be studied all year long, Foy said the month does provide our society an opportunity to pause and reflect. “It gives us a mental pause allowing society to see how far we have come and what else needs to be done,” he said.

The month also gives individuals an opportunity to get out there and interact with people of all races, Reid said “Our students have the responsibility to take what they learned in class, and face life,” she said.

History Professor Roger Beck’s agrees, but also wants the community to study and focus on African history not just African-American history.

“It’s our roots,” Beck said. “We are all African-American one way or another because human beings began living in Africa.”

In his research, he focuses on South African history, and teaches two African history courses called "African History to 1400" and "African History from 1400."

“I emphasize in my classes the misinformation and distortion of African history, and African life today,” Beck said. “A lot of people have no idea what Africa is about, and so I spend a lot time in my class trying to break down stereotypes about Africa.”

The colonial world created a mythological Africa in order to justify ‘civilizing’ and Christianizing, but colonists really were occupying and exploiting the continent, Beck said.

Our society needs to know the long battle African-Americans endured to receive freedom, Beck said but they also need to study the rich history of Africans.

All three professors encourage the community to educate themselves about Africana and African history through lectures, performances and discussions, but also to read to help provide context for everything they learn.

“Hopefully, one day our society will not need history awareness months because all histories will be inclusive in our culture, and no longer be compartmentalized and exclusive,” Reid said.

Other professors who teach Africana and African history are Martin Hardeman and David Smith.

EIU’s History Department provides students with both varieties in curriculum and individualized attention with 25 dedicated professors. For more information about the program, click here.