Elting Memorial Library Celebrates Black History Month

If you’re looking for a way to celebrate Black History Month and the arts, then be sure to stop by the Elting Memorial Library during the months of February and March. The library will be hosting four events related to Black history and Black culture, focusing on how they have impacted American society. The first event, a free screening of the 2018 film “If Beale Street Could Talk” was held on Feb. 4. 

The events were planned out by the Elting’s Committee to Celebrate Black History. It consisted of Library Director John Giralico, outgoing Board President Linda Welles, Assistant to the Director and President Bebhinn Dungan, Elting Board of Trustees member Rob Fields and SUNY New Paltz Assistant Professor of African History Blair Proctor.

“If Beale Street Could Talk” was chosen out of a selection of several films, which included 2016’s “Black Panther” and 2019’s “Harriet.” Proctor advocated for the film to be screened out of concerns of historical accuracy and to celebrate the adapted work of one of America’s most important Black authors, James Baldwin. The film is about the romance between Clementine “Tish” Rivers and Alonzo “Fonny” Hunt and their struggle after Fonny is falsely convicted of sexual assault, while Tish and her family try to clear his name.

For the past decade, the Elting Memorial Library has been celebrating Black History Month, but this year, the committee wanted to do much more for this important part of American history. 

“We’ve just been engaged with a local group, the Racial Equity Coalition. With [Wells and I] being involved in that group, we were inspired to see if we could do more with the opportunity to showcase library programming,” said Dungan.

In addition to the festivities, the library will be highlighting Black literature and film as well as important Black historical figures. This year they placed an emphasis on black inventors and innovators, such as agricultural scientist George Washington Carver, inventor Lewis Howard Latimer, physicist Shirley Ann Jackson and chemist Betty Harris.   

The second event was a discussion and screening of Ken Burns’s “Jazz” miniseries, followed by a demonstration of Lindy Hop, a dance style developed in Harlem in the 1930s and ‘40s. This event was hosted by Fields and held on Feb. 18.

The next event is “Back to School with Mr. Cook: Introduction to Black Studies,” hosted by New Paltz High School history teacher, Albert Cook. Cook teaches Black history at the high school and will be doing a talk based on one of his lessons, titled “Race and Science.” This event will be held on Feb. 25.

The final event will be a talk by Proctor, entitled “Double Consciousness Revisited: Garveyism & Coulouredness in Post-Apartheid South Africa.” The talk will cover the influence that Garveyism, a school of thought developed by Jamaican activist Marcus Garvey, had in South Africa amongst its Black community, which later led to the dissolution of apartheid. The talk will be held on March 7. All the events will be at 7 p.m.

This talk in particular is a passion project for Proctor. “This is the South African portion of my comparative study. My dissertation was titled: Blurred Consciousness How Blackness and Space Shapes Identity Formation Among South African Coloureds and New Orleans Creoles,” Proctor said. “I selected those two groups because both of those groups were racially classified as not White nor Black.” 

The committee ultimately hopes that New Paltz residents walk away with a better understanding of Black history and its relationship with American culture.

“People don’t realize, I think, how many African American and Black people have created and invented so many things that we just take for granted every day,” Giralico said. “Like potato chips out there! Who doesn’t eat that? That was created by a Black person.”

“African American history is American history,” Proctor said. “It’s something we should all take pride in, and hopefully it’s something that makes residents, employees, students … I hope that whatever level that they are in their life, that they maybe want to do further research.”