February is national Black History Month, an indispensable celebration of the role African Americans have played in shaping the culture of today. The Missouri History Museum is at the forefront of local festivities, hosting a series of related events throughout the month.

“It is vital to celebrate Black History Month throughout museums and the country because it forces people to acknowledge the achievements of African American history and culture,” says Shakia Gullette, manager of local history initiatives.“Today, so much of what has become American culture has been influenced by African Americans. From scholarship, music and pop culture, the footprint of the diaspora is evident.”

Dr. Herman Dreer and Julia Davis with teachers trained at Saturday School of Negro History. Missouri Historical Society Collections. 

The event series begins with the musical documentary “Unfinished Business: From the Great Migration to Black Lives Matter,”slated for 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 7, in the Lee Auditorium at the Missouri History Museum.

“‘Unfinished Business’ was conceptualized by Dr. Stephanie C. Boddie, of Baylor University,” Gullette says. “Boddie offers a creative, interactive approach to documenting oral histories of African American elders from historic black churches throughout the country. The elders featured in her presentation share their migration stories, visions of the future and the ‘Unfinished Business’ that holds the key to achieving liberty for all.

“Through Dr. Boddie’s vision, her goal is to blend traditional research and oral histories with film, music and conversation to create the dynamic of a story to help audiences consider their own stories and develop new narratives that open pathways toward more profound racial healing.”

Students from Sumner High School march past the Jefferson Memorial Building during the parade for its dedication, April 30, 1913. Missouri Historical Society Collections

The museum is also hosting a two-part speaker program billed “Inspiration by Example” following the lives of local black trailblazers, starting with SistaKeeper Empowerment Center founderTracie Berry McGheeat 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 12, followed by Hazelwood East High School principal Dr. Chauncy Granger at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 19.

“Museums serve as a safe space where people can come in and learn information on all levels,” Gullette says. “It is crucial that people have the opportunity to enter an area where local and regional history is celebrated, and that is extremely important when it comes to African American history.”

Historically, Black History Month has encouraged reflection, recognition and commemoration. 

“We are forever grateful to Carter G. Woodson, who in 1915 recognized that African Americans received little to no recognition in the history books, so he and Jesse E. Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History — now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.” ASALH organized the first Negro History Week in February in 1927, which eventually led to the U.S. government officially recognizing Black History Month in 1976. 

Dr. Herman Dreer, a teacher at Sumner High School and an early member of ASALH, organized St. Louis’s first Negro History Week, which included a program to help teachers incorporate African American history into their classes. 

This organization continues to be at the center of Black History Month celebrations by setting an annual theme. 

“This year’s theme is Black Migration, and that is what inspired us to look for a speaker who connects with the 2019 theme,” Gullette explains. “Although there is still a great deal of work to be done in terms of offering black history, which is American history within school curriculum, we have gained the ability to celebrate our history in nontraditional ways that explore African American heritage.” 

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