Monday, February 26, 2018

The Black Arts Forum and Black History Month Celebrations at UNCG, 1969-1985

In its first full year of recognition and funding from the Student Government Association, the Neo-Black Society focused much of its programming on the sponsorship of black cultural events and speakers on the UNCG campus. The 1969-1970 academic year saw the launch of the annual Black Arts Forum, featuring a performance by "The Believers" (a "musical-drama group"), the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre, and an exhibit in Elliott Hall of art by African American students at schools throughout the Piedmont region. Typically, this celebration took place in February (nationally, Black History Week was first proposed in 1926; it was expanded to Black History Month in February 1970).

In the early 1980s, the Black Arts Forum transitioned into a broader campus-wide observance of Black History Month. The Neo-Black Society remained a primary coordinator of the Black History Month celebration, but the Student Government Association and other campus departments and students groups also participated in planning and coordinating the events. 

NBS Dance Troupe performs during the 1984 Black History Month celebration
In 1984, UNCG's Black History Month celebration kicked off on January 31 with a speech by Julian Bond. At the time, Bond was a Georgia state senator, but he had previously served as one of the co-founders of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (he later served as chairman of the NAACP from 1998-2010 and as the first president of the Southern Poverty Law Center). The event featuring Bond was held at UNCG's Aycock Auditorium, but was organized and featured student performers and speakers from across Greensboro. In addition to UNCG students, others from North Carolina A&T University, Guilford College, Bennett Colleve, Guilford Tech, and Greensboro College participated in the program. Immediately prior to Bond's speech, which was titled "What Next?," the audience was entertained by a performance featured the combined voices of North Carolina A&T's United Christian Fellowship Choir and UNCG's Neo-Black Society Choir. 

In 1985, the Black History Month celebration had a large focus on the work of African American playwright and writer Lorraine Hansberry. The year marked the 25th anniversary of the first production of drama A Raisin in the Sun, and UNCG organized a four-day Lorraine Hansberry Seminar series centered around the work. Dr. Linda Brown Bragg, who taught creative writing and African American literature in UNCG's Residential College, delivered the opening lecture titled "Lorraine Hansberry: American Writer--International Consciousness." The following evening, UNCG history professor Dr. Loren Schweninger discussed A Raisin the Sun from a historical perspective. Dr. Femi Richards, who was serving as a distinguished visiting professor in the UNCG School of Home Economics, followed the next night with a lecture on "The African Aesthetic and Design Components in A Raisin in the Sun." The series was concluded with a lecture by Lorraine Hansberry scholar Deborah J. Wood, who spoke on "Lorraine Hanserry's Chicago Realism."

NBS Gospel Choir members in 1985
1985 also saw a Black Alumni Reunion weekend from February 22-24. The featured event of the weekend was a lecture by Dr. Mary Frances Berry, a civil rights leader who had been the first woman to serve as chancellor of a major research university. She served on the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and in 1984 co-founded the Free South Africa Movement. Additional events that weekend included a banquet featuring a speech by Joanna Smart Drane, one of the first African Americans admitted to Woman's College (now UNCG), and a showing of the Prince movie Purple Rain

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