Black History Month 2021

By Kiersten Kimminau

Journalist, professor and former civil rights era activist Charles E. Cobb Jr. once said, “The way the public understands the civil rights movement can be boiled down to one sentence: Rosa sat down, Martin stood up, then the white folks saw the light and saved the day.”

Well, by now we should all know that sure as heck ain’t the whole story…

Black history is absolutely fundamental to our nation’s history, but is rarely recognized as such. Back in 1915, historian Carter G. Woodson and minister Jesse E. Moorland noticed this issue and decided to do something.

They started what is today known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). In 1926, the group sponsored a weeklong celebration during the month of February to recognize Black history and achievements. After gaining traction, this week eventually evolved into a month, and in 1976, February became officially recognized as Black History Month.

What Can YOU Do at CWU?

At CWU, various campus organizations will be collaborating to celebrate the past, present and future of Black Americans.

One particularly special event that will take place is a virtual discussion with Innocence Project Speaker, Huwe Burton.

The Innocence Project is organization that exonerates the wrongly convicted through DNA testing and reforms the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice. Photo by Lacy Atkins.

At just 16 years old, Burton became a suspect in his mother’s murder in 1989.

Bronx detectives used psychologically coercive techniques to obtain a false confession, convicting him in 1991 and sentencing him to 15-years-to-life for a crime he did not commit.

“They knew that they were forcing a child into confessing to something that he didn’t do,” Burton said in an exclusive interview with CWU Hype.

Even after evidence came to light clearly proving Burton’s innocence, detectives doubled down on their efforts to hide the truth. It took three law clinics over the course of 30 years to prove what Bronx detectives had known within a week.

Burton was released on parole in 2009, and with help from the Innocence Project, affiliated with the law schools and clinics at Northwestern Law Clinic and Rutgers Law Clinic, he was finally exonerated in 2019.

Today, Burton continues to work closely with the Innocence Project because, “What happened to me 31 years ago is still happening to a lot of people same way now,” he said.

You can hear Burton’s story and learn how discrimination is still impacting the criminal justice system by attending the virtual event on February 9th at 7 p.m. RSVP HERE.

Video by Alex Groom, CWU Hype

In addition to Burton sharing his story with CWU students, other events will be taking place throughout the month as well. According to Elizabeth Vidaurri, the Program Manager of CWU’s Diversity and Equity Center (DEC), “There will be events… in conjunction with the Black Student Union, Central African Student Association, Africana & Black Studies department, Westside Student Life, Museum of Culture and Environment and the Ellensburg School District.”

After February 28th

One month is definitely NOT enough time to fully appreciate all of the untold stories and contributions of Black Americans throughout history (it also doesn’t help that February is the shortest month of the year *cue gargantuan eye roll*).

So, in addition to participating in the events taking place at CWU in honor of Black History Month, check out these resources to continue educating yourself and amplifying Black narratives long after the month ends:

  • Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) created A History of Racial Injustice. Their virtual calendar includes hundreds of entries highlighting historical events and issues in our nation’s racial history. Check it out HERE.
  • READ books, LISTEN to podcasts and WATCH films by Black creators.
  • SUPPORT Black-owned businesses.