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MIT celebrates black history month

By Joanna Stone

February is Black History Month, and in celebration, the Institute is holding a series of weekly events to highlight the achievements of black people throughout history.

Dating to the early 1900s, Black History Month is celebrated nationwide and is officially recognized. The idea behind the month originated with Carter G. Wilson, one of the first black historians, who saw the celebration as a way to increase understanding of and appreciation for black history.

MIT has celebrated Black History Month for well over a decade and this year's program features more events than have been featured in previous years, according to Associate Dean of <>

the Graduate School Isaac M. Colbert.

"We've increased the number of events and expanded their variety," said Colbert, who has overseen Black History Month at MIT for 13 years.

Low non-black participation

"In all that time I've been here," Colbert said, "there is one thing about Black History Month that has not changed, however, and that is the involvement of the majority community."

Colbert felt non-minority students, visibly absent from Black History Month events, are missing out on a potentially enriching experience. "When the majority community sponsors an event, such as a well-known speaker from the majority community, it is thought only natural that minority members partake and participate. Unfortunately the reverse is untrue," he said.

Gene B. Robbins '90, co-chair of the Black Students Union, also expressed concern over the lack of non-black turnout. "We've had a great turnout among the black community. But, for the most part, the non-black turnout has been extremely slight," he noted.

The problem may be due to simple misunderstanding, Robbins said. "They see the word `black' in Black History Month and assume the events are geared solely to blacks, but that's not the case."

Robbins did point to one event in which non-black turnout was high. "We co-sponsored an event with Hillel and the turnout was great. A lot of Hillel members, as well as BSU members, attended the event," he explained.

The event, which took place Monday, involved a theater group that performed various scenes and then questioned the audience about their reactions.

Another performance event, the African American Living Museum, will feature members of the BSU acting out the roles of prominent figures in black history. Assistant Dean for Student Affairs Ayida Mthembu, who developed the event, believed that it would bring a higher non-black turnout than events held earlier in the month. The performance is scheduled for Tuesday.

The MIT drama program has been very supportive of the museum event, Mthembu noted. "They're donating costumes, and have offered to help in any way they can," she said.

Black history classes urged

While Mthembu was pleased with the support certain departments have offered to the events, she hoped that in the future there would be more support from the Institute as a whole. "I can foresee a time when we'll be asking for more. We could certainly use more money for programming that's geared to minorities," she said.

Mthembu added that she would like to see more black history classes such as Politics of Race and Ethnicity in America (17.258/17.259), which is being taught by visiting Associate Professor James Jennings.

Colbert echoed Mthembus' desires. "I think it would be wonderful to see black history fully integrated into the curriculum," he said. This could be accomplished by hiring one or more tenured minority faculty members and also by encouraging more visiting professors such as Jennings, he believed.

Adding instruction on black contributions into the curriculum would also help to complete an already abundant offering, Colbert said. "There is room in the rich tapestry of MIT to add some additional thread," he asserted.

"The contributions of black scientists as well as other prominent figures in black history, are often overlooked," said BSU <>

co-chair Charles D. Robinson, <>

Jr. '90.

As an example of such oversight Robinson pointed to Louis Vladimir, a turn of the century physicist. It was Vladimir, not Thomas Edison, who designed today's typical lightbulb.

Few MIT students are aware of this fact and "that's why Black History Month is so important," Robinson said. "It gives people [like Vladimir] the long overdue recognition they deserve."

February is Black History Month and there are currently a series of weekly events being held at MIT in celebration of this occasion.

The month of February is officially, nation-wide, Black History Month and has been for some time. The idea for a Black History Month dates back to the early 1900's to Carter G. Wilson, one of the firstck black historian. Wilson, disturbed by the major gap in and disfavorable light shed upon black history, started a black history week as a means of setting the record straight.

As the hayday of the 60's made its presence felt, Black History Week was expanded to Black History month. (The decision for Black history to be honored during the month of February was an arbitrary one on the part of Wilson).

MIT students should know their science history, right? So who invented the light bulb...Thomas Edison? Not Quite.

Edison did make that first bulb flicker, but the enduring illumination we've all come to depend on is not in fact Edison's creation. The design of today's typical light bulb was actually invented by Loius Vladimir and if you don't know who he is, you're not alone.