While the campus and wider community will celebrate the upcoming MLK holiday, students in the Africana Studies program do not only celebrate this day, but “the man and his message” every day. The Center for Africana Studies in Wood 110 is an incubator for resources and opportunities to explore race, citizenship and equality, treasured ideals of the late Dr. King. One of Dr. King’s famous quotes sums up beautifully the heart and soul of Africana Studies: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” The campus community can enroll in courses, attend lectures and symposia, participate in the award-winning student organization, the Africana Studies Leadership Council (ASLC), or study abroad for a global perspective. Don’t forget Dr. King was a 1964 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in civil rights and social justice.
During the month of January, UCM students are enrolled at the University of Acala’s Franklin Institute through the Center for Transatlantic Studies & Scholarship (CTSS) in Spain. Contact Dr. Scott Chenault to learn more about this great program. One of the courses they are taking at CTSS focuses on the relationship of the African Diaspora to the Iberian Peninsula—Spain and Portugal. In this course, students are looking at the 700-year reign of the Moorish Empire, race in Cervantes’ “Don Quixote,” the rise and abolition of the transatlantic and trans-saharan slave trade, as well as exploring European colonization’s impact on African descended populations globally.
Just this week, students visited the “Casa de la Entrevista” or the place of the interview. This location is where on Jan. 20, 1486, Christopher Columbus first met with Queen Isabella to seek funding for his explorations. Columbus is a complicated historical figure revered in some circles and detested in others.While the new world exploration brought wealth, glory and fame to many European nations, it brought devastation to indigenous populations and opened the floodgates of what would become chattel slavery with the displacement or death of nearly 30 million people from the African continent. In 1494, the Treaty of Tordesillas essentially divided the new world between Portugal and Spain and “asiento de negros” or permission soon followed that gave license to trade enslaved Africans. Students are analyzing primary historical documents and are debating the pros and cons of Columbus Day versus Indigenous People’s Day. Based on Dr. King’s message and teachings, I think he would argue for an Indigenous People’s Day.
Therefore, in celebrating Dr. King, we also have to remember that Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, France, Great Britain and the United States were the largest beneficiaries of the transatlantic slave trade. Whole economies flourished because of it. To that end, UCM students will be participating in the African Lisbon Walking Tour that teaches students about Portugal’s dominance in trading nearly 5 million Africans to modern day Brazil. Yet, in Lisbon and Porto you might never know any of this happened without reading a history book. It also helps students better understand African immigration issues in Europe, as well as modern day slavery and human trafficking. All issues, that if Dr. King were alive, he would protest vehemently.
While this column cannot do justice to any of the issues raised, I invite you to make the Center of Africana Studies a place where you can talk, debate and learn in the best traditions of Dr. King as we celebrate what would have been his 90th birthday. The Africana Studies Leadership Council meets every Wednesday at 5 p.m. To learn more, contact President Denaijah Curry at firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us in the coming weeks as this column features our upcoming Gilder Lehrman Institute of History exhibit on Frederick Douglass, our Felice Hill Gaines Lecture in Africana Studies featuring Dr. Cherisse Jones-Branch, Vaughn Endowed Professor at Arkansas State University, and our legacy of campus student activism at the Big XII Conference on Black Student Government.
Delia Gillis is a professor of history at UCM as well as director the Center for Africana Studies and the program coordinator for the Africana Studies minor.