Archive for Sunday, February 16, 1992

BLACK HISTORY DISPLAY SHOWS LHS STUDENTS RICHNESS OFCULTURE

February 16, 1992

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Alberta White, a Lawrence High School secretary, says a tradition at the school during Black History Month has been to place a picture of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in a hallway display case for all students to see.

Although White can't say enough about the civil rights leader, she said she was concerned that such a display was leading students to ask, "Is that all there is to black history?"

So with the help of LHS German teacher Hannelore Hess, White created a display case of black memorabilia that includes the albums of great jazz artists, the photography of Kansas native Gordon Parks, books written by and about blacks, and a lot more.

"It's really difficult to do a Black History Month, knowing all that you know and all that's important to you, and try to convey that in a display," White said.

SHE THINKS the display is a good attempt.

"There are so many kids in this school," White said. "You can't do just one thing and make them all happy, but there are a lot of kids who do like jazz."

Hess' husband, Dennis, contributed largely to that component of the display. A jazz enthusiast for more than 40 years, Hess has a collection of more than 6,000 record albums.

Hess said the black jazz heritage is "very much a reason for pride, so it ought to be displayed."

One album cover displayed is from a vintage recording of the late Miles Davis. Hess said that Davis and John Coltrane autographed the cover of the album for him in 1962.

It was also that year that Hess obtained a poster from McKie's, "Chicago's No. 1 Jazz Room." The poster touts the club's jazz festival featuring Coltrane, Sonny Rollins and Jack McDuff.

KEVIN WILLMOTT, a local filmmaker and playwright, contributed a reproduction of a poster announcing a Negro National League baseball game between the Baltimore Elite Giants and the Evansville Colored Braves. Admission was 80 cents.

Although the Negro National League launched the careers of such greats as Jackie Robinson and Satchel Paige, Willmott said the negative side was that the league's creation was the product of segregation.

Willmott, who is black, said he thinks the negative side of black history in this country can be part of Black History Month, "but it should be explained. Otherwise, kids are going to see it eventually, and they're not going to get an explanation."

For example, Willmott said he wouldn't be opposed to displaying a ceramic figure he has of a black man eating a watermelon. However, he said he would want the display to explain the stereotype.

Willmott said the stereotype is believed to have originated from slaves sneaking into watermelon patches, which often was the only place where they could hope to quench their thirst.

"STEREOTYPES generally have some element of truth to them that is distorted or turned into something negative," Willmott said. "It's a part of black history, but it should be explained."

Willmott also contributed a poster highlighting some of Gordon Parks' best photographs, including one of a young Muhammad Ali. Parks, who grew up in Fort Scott, gained fame from his Life magazine photographs.

Charles Parks, LHS assistant principal, said some students have bothered to ask if he's any relation to the famed Parks. When the students learn that Gordon Parks is the school administrator's great uncle, it piques their interest, Charles Parks said.

White said she planned to change the display to perhaps include such memorabilia as Dennis Hess' books on Malcolm X and Langston Hughes and Willmott's posters of black movies from the 1970s. She said there would be only one drawback to the switch.

"The kids keep saying, `Don't take the (first) display down yet.'"

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