Parks on a Montgomery, Ala., bus on Dec. 21, 1956, the day Montgomery's public transportation system was legally integrated. Behind Parks is Nicholas C. Chriss, a UPI reporter covering the event. Courtesy photo
Free events celebrate Black History in February
By RACHEL COLEMAN
• Leader & Times
Black History Month arrived quietly on Monday with very little hullabaloo in Liberal. But the low-key beginning may be deceptive; as traditional black preachers sometimes say, “It’s Friday … but Sunday’s coming!”
The annual celebration of black culture and history will enliven every weekend this month, using food, fashion, music and fellowship to bring people together, said Black History Committee member Faye Alsup.
“The purpose is to set aside our differences. We want all races to come together and enjoy themselves, maybe give something new a try,” she said. “Every year, we have more people from other races participating, and that’s what we want to see.”
To set the tone, the month’s schedule begins with a “Come Together” gathering set for 3 p.m. Sunday at the newly constructed community building in Mahuron Park. Organizers of “Come Together” said it’s meant to do exactly what its name promises: bring people closer.
“People have the tendency to go off with their own group and stay separate. This was a way to bring everyone together for unity,” Alsup said. Representatives from various churches will present music, skits, readings and personal talks about Black History Month and its significance in a relaxed setting.
“Once we had someone act out Rosa Parks’ experience on the bus and one time someone did a reenactment of a sit-in,” Black History Committee member Gwendolyn Moore said. “They had the posters and came in singing.” Such reminders of a time before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were not intended to stir up bad feelings, Moore said, but rather “to remind us, especially the young people who don't know, what people of different races went through to get the rights and freedoms we have now.”
This year, “Come Together” will not be a long-format program.
“It’s Super Bowl Sunday, and we know that,” Alsup said. “You don’t have to dress up, and we won’t stay long because we want to watch the Super Bowl, too.”
The committee has scheduled 3 p.m. events for every Sunday throughout the month. On Feb. 13, the Taste Fest will serve up home-cooked soul food at the National Guard Armory. Featuring dishes prepared by the Black History Committee and volunteer cooks, the meal is served free of charge. Children’s games will be available, along with prize drawings for those who attend.
“There’s a little bit of everything for every taste,” said Moore. “Last year, someone brought buttermilk pie. I had never heard of it, never thought of it — but it was delicious.”
Entries are still being accepted for the Fashion and Talent Show set for 3 p.m. Feb. 20 at the Seward County Community College auditorium. The amateur event offers a mixture of glamour and good humor as participants model their own outfits and an emcee provides fashion talk and commentary.
“It’s all for fun. You won’t be judged or criticized, you just have to walk down that runway, smile and wave,” Alsup said.
Talent acts include presentations by Rine’s Karate, Dance Images, a group of boys who will perform “church rap” and more.
The Rosa Parks Scholarship Banquet, a black-tie event, serves as the high point of Liberal’s Black History Month celebration.
“We’ll have all the scholarship entrants at the banquet, and the winner will read his or her essay about a famous, inspiring person in black history,” Alsup said. The winner of the $800 scholarship contest — open to high school seniors and college students — will be announced at the banquet, which also features entertainment and guest speaker Ebberd McGee, an educator and entrepreneur from Wichita.
Tickets for the catered event, to be at 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 26, at Seward County Community College’s Banquet Room No. 229, are priced at $15 and may be purchased in advance from any Black History Committee member.
From negro spirituals sung in the cotton fields to roof-raising church songs, music has served as sustenance and inspiration throughout the black American experience. That tradition wraps up Liberal’s Black History Month observance with a 3 p.m. gospel concert Feb. 27 at Bibleway Church of God in Christ, 410 E. Eighth St.
Under the direction of Nathan Moore, the Black History Community Choir, a multiethnic group comprised of community members, will perform gospel standards and new selections. The choir is open to anyone in the community, Moore said, and continues to welcome new members at the 7 p.m. rehearsals every Friday at the church.
Every event planned for February will benefit from increased participation by people of all races, Alsup said.
“Black History Month is important to everyone in Liberal, and we want it to grow, not die out,” she said. The committee has been encouraged by the response of individuals and businesses in recent years.
“The businesses are so good to us,” she said. “They help us out a lot. Several flower shops donate centerpieces for the banquet. We have a new banner that National Beef made for us to display at all the events — it’s really cute. And National also donated meat for the Taste Fest. Many businesses give us donations for paper goods, door prizes, everything you can imagine, and we’re so grateful.”
The spirit of collaboration is contagious, too.
Heartened by the enthusiasm members of the Hispanic community have shown as Black History Month approached, the committee is thinking ahead to May 6.
“We’re already planning to put a float in the Cinco de Mayo parade,” Alsup said. “We’ve never done that before, but we’re going to try. That’s what we’re talking about when we say we want to come together as a community. It’s all good.”
To purchase tickets for the Rosa Parks Scholarship Banquet, enter the fashion and talent show, or get information about any of the Black History Month events in Liberal, contact Lawrence Johnson at 624-3105 or Faye Alsup at 624-2423.