Looking Back: A personal history

Campus professor shares his experience from Black History Month’s start


Dr. Bartlett discusses the importance of Black History Month at Eastern.

By Melissa Carroll, Staff Writer

This story was originally published in the Easterner, Vol. 61, No. 16, February 10, 2010 and has not been changed except for AP style.

History is best taught through personal experiences.

To really understand the importance of Black History Month (BHM), speakers will share their personal experiences with students at EWU through a series of presentations by the Africana education program.

Dr. Robert Bartlett, interim director of the Africana education program who coordinated the events for February, takes a look back this month to remember a time when BHM was not as respected and when racism was not so subtle like it is today.

“Our past has a way to deeply impact the way we see the world,” Bartlett said.

Growing up in a small town in West Virginia, Bartlett experienced the Civil Rights Movement first hand and watched it shape BHM.  This town was an all-black town where everyone was passive and indifferent about the major national changes happening at the time. People of his hometown lived in fear of ret-ribution from extremists such as the KKK, who made sure they were noticed among the black townspeople.

While everyone was busy fighting segregation and racism, BHM went unnoticed. Bartlett recalls during the time of national turmoil that BHM wasn’t taken seriously, but Black Nationalism and black conscious-ness was of major concern. Black Nationalism was a radical view of fighting with an intellectual argument by knowing the history of their people.

“Black Nationalism was the big movement of the ‘60s. We were trying to figure out who we were as a people while wanting to regain our dignity to view that being black was a good and beautiful thing,” Bartlett said.

He remarked that blacks, along with the nation, were being split in two during the Civil Rights Movement. They were trying to figure out an identity for themselves as part of the Black Nationalism movement but we’re stuck between trying to be “white” to fit into that society and embracing their heritage.

The Civil Rights movement was greatly influenced by the integration of the army during the Korean War, Bartlett recalled. Black people served alongside whites, and for the first time, black officers led white soldiers. But when they returned from war, their beloved country, which they fought so gallantly for, was still spilt.

After coming from a long line of war veterans, Bartlett got swept up in the Black Nationalist movement. He was having a hard time understanding how, after giving the ultimate sacrifice for their country, blacks would come back and accept being second rate.

This confusion was shared by many blacks who started to challenge everything: the rules, the history books, even the police.

 Violence erupted and escalated to a near civil war throughout the country when passion for acceptance and equality was misunderstood for anger. Bartlett believes that the misinterpretation of passion and anger is still a wide problem today, which causes a lot of resentment between whites and blacks.

BHM started to grow and gain respect from the scars of the Civil Rights Movement. Blacks were realizing that to understand themselves, they first had to learn their history.

“If all we knew of our history was that we were once slaves, then we were still in chains in our minds,” Bartlett said.

In celebration of BHM, four speakers will be coming to EWU.  By sharing personal experiences and discussing what it is like to live on the line of race and gender, they will be expanding on Bartlett’s belief that stories have a powerful way of teaching us lessons. 

“I believe in the power of stories. There are more opportunities for learning with teaching through experiences,” Bartlett said.