February 02, 2021

Black History Month, Part 1: Remembering the roots of our community and taking action

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BlackHistory1bPhoto credit: UAB ArchivesEach year in February, the U.S. honors Black History Month to celebrate the achievements of Black/African American individuals, recognizing the central role of the Black/African American community in America’s history, and highlighting the importance of racial justice, diversity and inclusion, and equity.

On the significance of Black History Month, Selwyn M. Vickers, M.D., FACS, dean of the School of Medicine, says: “One of the principles about Black History Month is that it is a key part of America’s identity. One of our struggles in this country is painting America as monochromatic or monolithic; that’s not who we were at our best, and it’s clearly not who we are going to be in our future. Black History Month is a uniquely different time of reflection because of how African Americans got here. That struggle has continually defined our story and identity, and is a part of who we are as we move forward.”

A history to honor at UAB
While Black/African American history at UAB is expansive and wide, a few notable “firsts” helped make the institution what it is today. Several Black/African Americans made history in the 1960s, including Autherine Lucy, who was the first Black/African American to be admitted to the University of Alabama in 1956. She later had her admission rescinded due to safety concerns of violent white mobs and was ultimately expelled. Her story greatly impacted the future of educational justice.

Similarly, Vivian J. Malone and James A. Hood, were two of the first Black/African American students enrolled for classes at the University of Alabama in 1963—before UAB became an autonomous university. Both students were involved in the incident that became known as “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door.”

That same year, Dr. James T. Montgomery became the first Black/African American physician to be granted staff privileges at University Hospital and the first Black/African American to receive a faculty appointment in the medical school.

On May 30, 1965, Vivian J. Malone received her B.S. degree in Commerce and Business Administration, becoming the first Black/African American graduate of The University of Alabama system.

Later in 1965, Barbara Walker became the first Black/African American student in the University Hospital School of Nursing, and Sarah Louise Fisher became the first Black/African American student in The University of Alabama School of Nursing, then located on the campus in Tuscaloosa. Additionally, Dr. Clifton O. Dummett of the Tuskegee Veterans Administration Hospital received a clinical appointment in the UAB School of Dentistry, becoming the first Black/African American member of the school's faculty.

Read more about UAB’s history in a chronological timeline here.

BlackHistory4bPhoto credit: UAB ArchivesReckoning with our roots
In the broader Birmingham community, Black history and civil rights movements are deep-seated. The narrative of Birmingham and its surrounding areas include accounts of segregation, racial injustice, redlining, and oppression—themes that have lingered for far too long and continue to have an impact on systemic racism today.

Evelyn Jones, MA, executive director for Diversity and Community Affairs in the School of Medicine, says that “Birmingham's storied place in the history of the Civil Rights Movement in this country gives a unique perspective that combines hope and healing as we remember our past, consider the present, and prepare for the future. As we recognize the central role of Black/African Americans in U.S. history, Birmingham is uniquely positioned to take center stage as a national leader in dialogue and action surrounding human rights.”

As an academic medical center in the heart of Birmingham, existing disparities are continually being identified and confronted in health care—be they racial or socioeconomic. The COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated disparities in Birmingham and beyond, signifying where root issues still exist.

Across UAB, leaders continue to uproot long-standing systemic issues, with a goal of continuing to build a system that works for all and provides outstanding, accessible, and equitable health care.

Black History Month is a time of reverence and reflection, but also a time to strengthen a personal commitment to end racism, oppression, and inequality.

Honoring Black History Month: now and year round
Jones says that celebrating Black History Month can take a number of forms. To start, she suggests learning about an unsung hero of Black history. Most of us are familiar with the forerunners of Black/African American history, like Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and Maya Angelou, but several heroes worked behind the scenes to drive radical change. People such as Shirley Chisolm, Claudette Colvin, Robert Sengstacke Abbott, and Jane Bolin fought the good fight for equality in numerous ways. Get to know other influential Black/African Americans who have made a difference across our nation’s history.

Another way to honor Black History Month is to get involved with local organizations. ACLU Alabama seeks to preserve and extend constitutionally guaranteed rights to people who have historically been denied their rights on the basis of race; Alabama Arise is a non-profit organization with a commitment to racial equity and inclusion, working to promote policies that improve the lives of Alabamians with low income; and, the Southern Poverty Law Center is an organization dedicated to dismantling hate and bigotry, while seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society.

Jones offers other ideas to honor the lives of those who came before us, and celebrate Black/African Americans today. Here are a few:

Support a Black-owned business. Check out this list for businesses in Birmingham.
Visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. The BCRI has mandated social distancing and COVID-19 safety guidelines.
Donate to a nonprofit or HBCU.
Trace your family history.
Engage in healthy conversations about Black history and cultural awareness. A good place to start is with diversity education offered by the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
Register to vote. Registering to vote in Alabama is simple and easy at vote.org.

In the same way, Samantha Hill, M.D., MPH, faculty liaison for the UAB Underrepresented in Medicine House Staff Council and assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics, recommends several books, movies, and documentaries as a way to begin advocating and educating on racial justice. A top pick for Hill is the TV show, “A Different World.” Hill says the show “does a great job of displaying the variety and depth of the African and African American experience in higher education.”

Others on her list include:

Movies and Documentaries
13th (on Netflix)
When They See Us (Netflix)
Just Mercy (Hulu, YouTube, HBO Max, Amazon Prime, Google Play)
Crash (Hulu, YouTube, HBO Max, Amazon Prime, Google Play)
The Hate You Give (Amazon Prime, Google Play, YouTube, Vudu)
Get Out (Hulu, YouTube, Google Play, Vudu)
Fruitvale Station (Netflix)
The Hurricane (Hulu, Amazon Prime, YouTube, Google Play)

Black Like Me, by John Howard Griffith
The Sun Does Shine, Anthony Ray Hinton
Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans From Colonial Times To The Present, by Harriet A. Washington
White Privilege, by Paula S. Rothenberg
White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, by Bryan Stevenson
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot
How to be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi
Four Hundred Souls, by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha Blain
The Black Friend on Being a Better White Person, by Frederick Joseph
Why Are All of the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria, by Beverly Daniel Tatum

Children’s Books
We Are Still Here, by Traci Sorell
Your Name is a Song, by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow
I am Every Good Thing, by Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James
I Am Enough, by Grace Byers

For more ways to celebrate Black History month, check out the School of Public Health’s DEI celebration trails that honor Civil Rights in Birmingham with walking tours of historic landmarks, or tune in to a livestreamed concert at Alys Stephens on Feb. 25 that honors Black history icons.