BBKing playing guitar.
B.B. King performing in OEC auditorium, 1990.

Tales from the Archives: Celebrating Black History and Culture at St. Thomas

This February, St. Thomas is hosting a variety of events to celebrate Black History Month, continuing a tradition of honoring Black history and culture on campus.

One of the first programs of this type was the 1970 Black Symposium. Sponsored by the college’s Human Relations Committee (a joint faculty and student committee committed to improving race relations on campus), the aim of the symposium was to acquaint members of the St. Thomas community with “solutions to the racial crisis and problems in America.” The program of the symposia featured a series of lectures by prominent local figures from academia and the civil rights movement.

In 1973 and 1974, St. Thomas’ student-run Afro-American Cultural Center co-sponsored Black Experience Week with their counterparts at the College of St. Catherine. Among the event’s highlights were an exhibit of the work of visual artist Alvin C. Carter, a performance by the musical group Sounds of Blackness and viewings of the critically acclaimed films “Sounder” and “Shaft.” Lectures by prominent individuals like civil rights leader Julian Bond were included in the weeklong event’s programming.

HANA (an organization of Hispanic; African American; Native American; and Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander students) took the lead to broaden the types of events on the Black History Month calendar in the late 1980s. Hoping to engage St. Thomas students in Black culture in a unique way, the stage in Scooter’s became the runway for a HANA-sponsored fashion show. Semiformal dances, often co-sponsored with other Twin Cities colleges, were another popular event then. Featuring step shows by Alpha Phi Alpha and Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity members, the dances drew large crowds of students.

Beginning in the early 1990s, the All-College Council and the Dean of Students Office sponsored appearances on campus by nationally known Black performers during Black History Month. Famed blues guitarist B.B. King played for a sold-out O’Shaughnessy Educational Center auditorium crowd in 1990. Two years later, actors Danny Glover and Felix Justice performed a theatrical reading of the words of Langston Hughes and Martin Luther King Jr. as a part of the celebration.