February 29, 2016 — This February, Jesuit universities and colleges across the U.S. commemorated Black History Month with various events, talks and celebrations.
On Feb. 18, the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania dedicated a building to honor its first African-American graduate, Louis Stanley Brown. Brown, born in 1902 in Scranton, earned a commercial degree in 1919 from the University of Scranton, then known as St. Thomas College.
The college’s yearbook noted that Brown was ambitious and industrious, as well as humorous and witty. After graduation, he remained in Scranton, working as a shoe shiner, a laborer in the coal mines and for a local trucking company.
The University of Scranton’s Louis Stanley Brown Hall
At a ceremony as part of the school’s Black History Month celebration, University of Scranton president Jesuit Father Kevin P. Quinn officially named and blessed Louis Stanley Brown Hall, built in 1896. “The university is proud to dedicate Louis Stanley Brown Hall, which takes a page out of the university’s history books and brings it to new life on campus and in the greater Scranton community,” said Fr. Quinn. “As an African-American college graduate in the early 1900s, he serves as an illustration to Jesuit and Catholic education’s longstanding commitment to justice.”
In early February, Georgetown University announced a new African-American studies major, capitalizing on the foundation of its current minor program. Starting in fall 2016, candidates for the major will take 10 courses, divided into two concentrations — one on language, literature, arts and culture and the other on history, behavioral science and social inquiry.
Angelyn Mitchell, associate professor of English and a core faculty member in the African-American Studies Program at Georgetown University, discusses a literary work with her class.
Courses from several other programs and departments will satisfy the new major’s requirements, including a sociology course on DC Neighborhoods, Poverty, and Inequality. “Such courses provide the tools to theorize solutions to social issues rooted in longstanding and persistent racial divides,” said Robert Patterson, director of the African-American Studies Program.
The new major is part of the university’s commitment to addressing racial injustice, along with other steps announced earlier this month by Georgetown University president John J. DeGioia. Georgetown has also said it will expand its faculty in the African-American studies department over the next two academic years; offer new graduate fellowship and post-doctoral opportunities; create a new research center for the study of racial injustice in U.S. society; and establish a working group on racial injustice as well as a new senior officer position to support these efforts.
“As a Jesuit university we have embraced a challenge that was presented by the [former] Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Father Pedro Arrupe,” said DeGioia. “He called on educators to undertake rigorous self-evaluation and ‘above all make sure that in the future the education imparted in Jesuit schools will be equal to the demands of justice in the world.’ We, at Georgetown, have been responding to Father Arrupe’s challenge for more than four decades. We have not, however, sufficiently grappled with the problem of racial injustice.”
Fordham University in the Bronx, New York, showcased the lives of Bronx activists Beatrice Bergland, Vincent Harding, Hetty Fox and Morgan Powell, who participated in interviews as part of the university’s Bronx African-American History Project.
The project, in collaboration with the Bronx County Historical Society, aims to document the history of the African-American political leaders, educators, musicians, social workers, businesspeople, clergy, athletes and leaders of community-based organizations who have lived and worked in the Bronx since the late 1930s. The digital archive of oral histories collected by the project, including downloadable audio files and transcripts of interviews, is available online.
From left: Bronx activists Hetty Fox, Vincent Harding, Beatrice Bergland and Morgan Powell participated in Fordham University’s Bronx African-American History Project.
Additionally, Xavier University in Cincinnati has a Black History Month resource page at JesuitResource.org, which includes videos, prayers, quotes and other materials. Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Missouri, hosted a formal event titled the “All-Black Affair,” with proceeds benefiting the people of Flint, Michigan. Saint Peter’s University in Jersey City, New Jersey, and many others posted special schedules of lectures, film screenings, discussions and other events for the month.