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Published: Wednesday, 2/8/2006

Monroe County: Concerts planned in county observance

BY VANESSA WINANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER

MONROE - Less than 3 percent of its population is African-American, so perhaps it's not surprising that Monroe County has few public events to mark Black History Month.

The only public events of note are concerts in the 19th annual Black History Month Blues Series, sponsored by the Monroe County Community College, Monroe County Library System, and the Blues Coalition. The series started Saturday, with weekly free concerts set in different library branches and a larger concert Feb. 25 at the River Raisin Centre for the Arts in downtown Monroe. The library system also held its African-American read-in last weekend.

The city and the county governments say they have no upcoming events. The same goes for the city school district, although children will study it in class. Even the Monroe County Historical Museum has nothing beyond its usual exhibits.

But that may change next year, said John Gibney, the museum's assistant director.

"We had a meeting last week and discussed it in detail," Mr. Gibney said. "We just don't have the time and staff to do it now. We would love to have volunteers to help us."

He acknowledged the lack of public events in the county is a shame, since it actually had a rich role in the history of African-Americans. After all, it's right on the route former slaves would have taken to southern Canada and freedom.

"The Underground Railroad was in operation for 35 to 50 years before the Civil War," Mr. Gibney said. Still, historians don't have the whole story of what went on in Monroe County, as is the case in other parts of the country, too. For years after the war, those who helped slaves could have faced reprisals. So the writers of history omitted those bits.

"What happened was buried because they didn't want to get people in trouble," Mr. Gibney said.

"So at this point, we just don't have the documentation. And conjecture isn't solid history."

As for the county's lack of public events, "it's not something anyone pays much attention to," he said.

The former teacher would like to see history of all minorities brought forward, studied, and celebrated throughout the year.

"We want to help get people in touch with the history that's all around them," he said. "We would love to talk about African-American achievement at Christmas if we could, have them involved all months of the year, not just February. We'd like to integrate it with the things we're trying to do with Native American studies, and ethnic diversity.

"That's a duty of anyone who does history: to integrate, to include all the different shades and colors of history," Mr. Gibney said. "One thing that always is sad to me is when you have the standard stuff that comes out of textbooks that makes it look like white Anglo-Saxon Protestants did everything. You also have this rich French history, which we had here.

"We have to expand on what we're doing. We had Tecumseh here, one of the greatest men in Native American history. But very few people even know about him. And I've never understood why we don't have a Frederick Douglass day. What about Sojouner Truth, the first woman elected to the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame? There's so many other great leaders. The problem is we just kind of gloss over it, because we've decided to isolate it into one month."

So, perhaps next year, Mr. Gibney said.

"It's something we would love to do in the future, when we have the staff," he said.

Contact Vanessa Winans at:

vwinans@theblade.com

or 419-724-6168.



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