Nationally recognized as Black History Month, February allows Americans to focus their attention more intently on the accomplishments, as well as the struggles, of African Americans.
Delta Upsilon Fraternity was the most recent UR organization to acknowledge this on Wednesday night when it hosted a public event that gave insight into the life of well-known civil rights leader Malcolm X and the influence he had on the black freedom struggle.
“I wanted to organize a program to pay tribute to a great historical figure that is often overlooked,” Programming Chair for Delta Upsilon and sophomore Adam Chernick, who organized the event, said.
Delta Upsilon’s program, which took place at the fraternity’s house, featured a talk by civil rights expert Julia Rabig – a post-doctorate student at UR who teaches several courses related to the civil rights movement.
Her talk highlighted the impact of Malcolm X’s message as a civil rights leader and showcased the fact that his beliefs ventured outside the realm of what is typically thought of as the Black Nationalist movement.
While elaborating on the details of Malcolm X’s life, Rabig offered her own perspective on the major events that dictated how he was represented in society. She argued that the environment in which Malcolm X was raised contributed greatly to his outlook on racial issues.
Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little, but he later changed his name to Malcolm X. He did so to symbolize the rejection of what he deemed a “slave name.”
His father, an advocate of the United Negro Improvement Association, was suspected to have been murdered by the Black Legion, a white supremacist group.
After his mother was institutionalized following a nervous breakdown, Malcolm and his siblings were sent to foster homes.
Rabig explained that the result of such a violent and disturbing upbringing was an ingrained sense of mistrust and loathing for a predominately white, oppressive culture.
Rabig also focused on Malcolm X’s involvement in the Nation of Islam – an organization that, among other things, served as a rebuttal to the societal image of the African Americans as lazy and immoral.
Rabig explained the NOI’s role in the mid-1900s was antagonist to what they saw as an imperialistic movement within the U.S. and that their efforts were hailed by other civil rights advocates as a hindrance to integration.
The civil rights teacher also emphasized Malcolm X’s personal transformation after he made a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1964. Upon his return to the U.S., he dissociated himself from the NOI and began promoting the message of unity and brotherhood irrespective of race.
In 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated by what was believed to be members of the NOI.
Rabig commented on how the message that Malcolm X tried to communicate toward the end of his life differs from typical Black Nationalist movements. Black Nationalist movements are generally short-lived. She also said they were generally politically – and economically – based. Malcolm X’s ideas, conversely, were more politically based and focused on the religion as a vehicle for equality.
Rabig opened the floor up for questions following her talk, and topics such as Malcolm X’s relationship to Martin Luther King, Jr. and the religious nature of the NOI were discussed.
The second portion of the event was the screening of Spike Lee’s 1992 film “Malcolm X,” which is based on the civil rights leader’s autobiography.
Junior Benjamin Primack, an attendee at the event, described his impression from the night’s discussion and movie.
“This program was extremely successful, and I hope this is the first program of many that enlighten the undergraduate population about times in history that are misunderstood and underappreciated,” he said.
The UR campus has acknowledged the importance of recognizing African-American achievement and struggle. This program caps of a month-long host of events such as film screenings, lectures and performances that are dedicated to showing appreciation for the accomplishments of African Americans.
On Feb. 1, Rare Books and Special Collections hosted a reception celebrating Rochester native and African-American activist Rocky Simmons. That same week, on Feb. 5, Black Students’ Union sponsored an event that commemorated African American literature. Last Sunday, Feb. 24, the Christian Fellowship and Afro-Expressions co-sponsored the Gospel Concert, which featured the tagline, “One voice…One Mic…One Spirit.” Local gospel groups and choirs performed.
This past Sunday, the Christian Fellowship Gospel Concert, sponsored by the UR Christian Fellows, featured a collaboration of area performers honoring Black History Month.
In relation to Black History Month’s dedication to African-American recognition, leaders from the Students’ Association, College Democrats, Pride Network, Students for Social Justice and the Fraternity Presidents’ Council are hosting a forum tonight discussing campus diversity – or lack thereof.
The evening concluded the month’s honoring of black history with aims to educate and inform the UR community about a piece of history, perpetuating the ideals of acceptance and unity that Malcolm X stood for toward the end of his life.
Hilfinger is a member of the class of 2010.