Black History Month - Feb. 2013

In recognition of Black History Month, we asked members of the Union community to submit their reflections and thoughts. Each participant was asked to write a response, in their own words, to the question “What does Black History Month mean to you?”

Dr. Carolyn Turner

Dr. Carolyn Turner
Dean
Cincinnati Undergraduate Programs

Black History Month is important to me because I grew up in an environment with parents from the South who were deeply rooted in the Civil Rights movement. My father was instrumental in the Civil Rights movement in Cincinnati. Black power, freedom, and racial equality were part of every aspect of life for my sister Gayle and me. My dad bought these special black history encyclopedias and expected us to read them and would ask us questions about what we read. My sister and I learned to sing all three verses of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the Negro national anthem, and when we started taking piano lessons, my mother provided the sheet music for our piano instructor, who was a young white male University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music student who was not familiar with the song.

My parents were both proud graduates of HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) in a time when African Americans in the South were not as welcome in predominately white colleges as they are now. They met as graduate students at Pennsylvania State University in the late 1950s, a milestone for both of them, and first generation college graduates and masters graduates in their immediate families.

My father’s status as first generation college graduate in his family had a special twist. His father was a sharecropper who stated he had no use for education. However, his mother was a teacher without a college degree. In rural Tennessee, black teachers in black schools often taught without degrees. My grandmother took my dad to school with her every day from the age of three. So he grew up loving learning, having received his early foundations from his mother. After graduation from high school and three and half years in the U.S. Air Force serving during the Korean Conflict, he returned to Tennessee and enrolled at Tennessee State University. His mom was so inspired by her son that she enrolled at TSU along with him. He graduated first, in May of 1955; she graduated in August of the same year.

More than 20 years later, when I started looking at colleges and universities, I remember asking my dad, “Do you think I should go to a black college?” I remember him simply saying, “If you want to.” I remember being a little puzzled by his response, and he must have sensed my concern. He said, “We fought so hard so that our children could attend any school they wanted to. We didn’t have that luxury. So, Sweetheart, the choice is yours!” My dad was so proud that I finally chose to attend Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

But the proudest moment of his life was when my daughter, his granddaughter, who graduated from high school in 2008 with honors and could have gone to any school of her choice, chose Tennessee State University! And that is what Black History Month means to me – a true celebration of where we came from and where we are now; how the hopes and dreams of our ancestors have transformed into the realities of today.

Additional Reflections on Black History Month

Ray Jordan - Student, Ph.D., '13

Debbie Hawkins - Student, B.S. Social Work, '14