February is national Black History Month, and local schools, nonprofits and other organizations are gearing up to acknowledge the struggles and commemorate the accomplishments of African-Americans.
Representing 13.6 percent of the U.S. population, blacks have contributed immensely to every aspect of American culture and society, and they have disproportionately endured the effects of discrimination and poverty.
This month, the spotlight shines on the African-American experience, and
South Carolina is host to at least three unusual tributes.
The pioneering scholarship of Lorenzo Dow Turner, a linguist who helped link West African communities to the coastal Southeast of the United States, is the subject of a traveling exhibition presented by the College of Charleston's Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture.
"Word, Shout, Song: Lorenzo Dow Turner Connecting Communities Through Language" is on view through April 4. Curated by Alcione Amos of the Smithsonian Institution's Anacostia Community Museum, the show corresponds with Black History Month and includes several special events scheduled for Saturday afternoons in February and March.
Turner showed that enslaved Africans retained their cultural identity and language to a significant degree, despite slavery and oppression. His research focused on the Gullah-Geechee communities in South Carolina and Georgia, who had created an English Creole language reminiscent of Africa.
"This traveling exhibition ... reminds us of the cutting edge, seminal, historical and cultural research being done by African-American scholars during the 1930s and after, and the extent to which that research involved the study of Africans' survival in the diaspora," said Curtis J. Franks, the Avery Center's curator and director of museum education.
The show, therefore, highlights "Africa's gifts to the world and the continuing importance of repositories and museums like the College of Charleston's Avery Research Center."
Turner attended Howard University, Harvard University and the University of Chicago. But it was during a summer teaching stint at South Carolina State College when he first heard the Gullah dialect that would captivate him for the rest of his career.
"Word, Shout, Song" recounts his travels to the Southeast, Europe, Brazil and West Africa to record and compare the speech of those of African heritage.
The traveling show, made possible by the James E. and Emily E. Clyburn Endowment for Archives & History at South Carolina State University, features rare recordings of Gullah speech and songs, rare photographs and other samples of Turner's important work.
The Avery Research Center is located at 125 Bull St. For more information, call 953-7609.
The documentary "Woke Up Black" by Mary F. Morten will be screened at 6 p.m. Feb. 9 at the Avery Research Center.
The film follows five black youths for two years, recording some of their daily experiences and interactions and providing them an opportunity to speak about matters that affect their lives.
Morten, a Chicago-based filmmaker, wanted audiences exposed to a diversity of voices in the African-American community, especially those of youth.
"We are not monolithic, and we need to move beyond the headlines," she said.
Featured are Rosalee, the oldest in a family of eight and the first to attend college; Carter, adopted by two gay black men after years in foster care; Ansheera, who is struggling with sexual-identity issues; Morgan, a privileged student raised to be a strong black woman; and Sheldon, a young father and community organizer.
The special screening of "Woke Up Black" is co-sponsored by the Avery Research Center and the College of Charleston's African-American Studies Department.
Civil rights conference
Scholars will gather this month at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg for a conference called "South Carolina and the Civil Rights Struggle."
The conference -- to be held in the Barbara A. Vaughan Recital Hall from 6 to 8 p.m. on Feb. 23, and from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 24 -- will honor the remaining members of the Friendship Nine, who served 30 days in jail following a 1961 sit-in at McCrory's lunch counter in Rock Hill.
The conference is meant for all audiences, but several sessions are designed especially for K-12 teachers and students. The cost is $40 per person, $25 for students.
For more information, or to register, visit www.nche.net or call Larry Watson at 803-536-7243 or 803-536-8914.
President Barack Obama issued a proclamation Tuesday calling on Americans to observe Black History Month with "appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities."
"During National African American History Month, we pay tribute to the contributions of past generations and reaffirm our commitment to keeping the American dream alive for the next generation," Obama proclaimed.
"In honor of those women and men who paved the way for us, and with great expectations for those to follow, let us continue the righteous cause of making America what it should be -- a nation that is more just and more equal for all its people."