By Emily Gresbrink
Lew Mallow, a local resident, raised his hand and shared a story about Mississippi’s ratification of the 13th amendment.
“It was 1995,” he said.
The audience reacted with either small startled or light laugher.
“No! It was 1995 when it happened,” he said. “I have been to the South and it’s not unusual to get back up North and ask if they are still fighting a civil war. My answer is, ‘let me take a minute to think about it.’”
Stories such as Mallow’s – stories of the Civil Rights Struggle and confusions associated with it – are not uncommon. Feb. 27 marked the first installment of a three part lecture series through the L.E. Phillips Library celebrating Black History Month.
David M. Jones, a professor of English and Women’s Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, allowed his audience to nibble on provided refreshments and, like Mallow, discuss past and ongoing race and power issues.
Jones said the purpose of his lecture was to create awareness of these important, yet often times unfamiliar, movements such as the Nation of Islam or the Black Panther Party.
“There aren’t as many people familiar with, say, the Black Panthers versus the Civil Rights Movement,” he said. “And just seeing how the Black Panthers influences the present, there’s more of its legacy that isn’t known. And some of it is problematic influence, and some of it necessary.”
In such a case, Jones said, problematic influence means the remnants left today of black power movements that fizzled out in the mid-1970s.
“There wasn’t enough strategy for times when there was more interest in these movements,” he said. “That eventual backlash from having no strategy was really difficult to recover from, from Nixon to Reagan. We’re just now kind of getting away from the backlash, even just recently with Obama’s first election.”
Jones’ lecture was well-received, with a question and answer session lasting well past the scheduled end the lecture. Members of the community chimed in with stories and questions.
Elina Lane, a senior at UW-Eau Claire, said Jones’ way of explaining and allowing open discussions of Black Nationalism was effective.
“He does a good job of making you think about the facts,” she said, “and it makes you react in the way you should react, in the sense of having a righteous interest and anger.”
Lane, who attended the lecture out of interest and a desire to learn about the issues discussed, said that a big attention-getter of the night was the discussion of black women and feminism during the Black Nationalism movement.
“It was that intersection of race and gender in the Black Panther Party,” she said. “I didn’t know women were leaders of the Black Panther Party and that they had been on the forefront of feminism, especially black feminism that deeply, or that they were that involved.”
Jones discussed women such as Angela Davis, Toni Cade Bambara, Elaine Brown and Ashata Shakur. Prominent activists during the Civil Rights and Black Panther movements, Jones said the four women were arrested or sent into exile for supposed action against the government.
“(The Black Panther Party) is the best-known black power organization, and some of these women activists connected to them are probably the best known people of revolutionary black power,” Jones said.
On the next two Wednesdays – March 6 and 13 – Jones will conclude his lecture series, moving into discussions about the FBI wars against the Black Panthers, the artistic movement strategy and the lasting legacies and long-term effects of Civil Rights and Black Power movements.
The talking points through the three lectures – educating the community in Civil Rights and Black Power and Nationalism issues – is what brought Jones to the discussions in the first place .
“The black power movement is a living movement and it’s a very important movement going beyond to just legal equality and our identities, but to a conscious change,” Jones said. “And it is certainly a matter of interpretation to what extent it continues today.”