African-American History Month

African-American History Month at Barnard

First Annual Spring Festival -- members of the Barnard Organization of Soul Sisters performing South African dance, medium view, Barnard Gymnasium, April 19, 1969. From left: Sandra J. Hemphill '71, Frances Sadler '72, Ruth M. Louie '71, Phyllis McEwen '72, and unknown dancer. Courtesy of Barnard College Archives.

African-American History Month—a national tradition since 1926, when it was established in its earliest form as Negro History Week—has also been a Barnard tradition for decades. The earliest mention of a formal campus observation is in the March 4, 1947 issue of the Barnard Bulletin, which reported on a Feb. 25 speech by Burton Turner, founder of the Columbia chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), whom Barnard’s Liberal Club invited to speak in honor of Negro History Week. Anthropology professor Gladys Reichard introduced Turner.

Flier for an African Heritage Month event in 1998. Courtesy of Barnard College Archives.

Barnard has celebrated Negro History Week—designated nationally as Black History Month in 1976, and interchangeably referred to as African-American History Month or African-American Heritage Month—ever since, though it is unknown whether it did so on a yearly basis at first, or whether there were observations before 1947. Observance picked up steam in tandem with overall campus activism in the 1960s. In 1964, the Columbia chapter of civil rights group CORE hosted film screenings of My Own Backyard to Play In and Integration Report No. 1, 1960, both of which depicted the integration struggle; the event also featured a speech by Eric Weinberger, who received CORE’s Gandhi Peace Prize in 1963.

Today, commemorative events span the entire month of February and are sponsored primarily by the Columbia Black Students Organization (BSO, established 1976) and the Barnard Organization of Soul Sisters (BOSS, established 1968). They include speakers, film screenings, educational panels, and a wide variety of other engagements, and have gained active support and participation from the Barnard administration.

Written by Maggie Astor ’11