Happy Black History Month! Black History Month is a time to honor and celebrate the achievements and accomplishments of Black people in the United States.
Black History Month dates back to 1976 when President Gerald Ford officially recognized the month of February as Black History Month. February was chosen as Black History month as it aligns with the birthdays of author and activist Frederick Douglass, and President Abraham Lincoln who formally abolished slavery. The month of February was also chosen due to being the anniversary of the approval of the 13th Amendment.
Many people in the United States celebrate Black History Month by reading Black literature, watching films and documentaries about the movements to resist oppression, and even cooking traditional African-American cuisines to learn more about the history of Black people in the United States.
This year’s Black History month theme is “Black Health and Wellness”. The theme focuses on the wellness and health of the Black community while also acknowledging Black medical practitioners and scholars who contribute to our country’s health.
This Black History Month, Gleeson is featuring an exhibit on Afrofuturism which is a cultural and artistic movement that seeks to insert Blackness and African identity into science-fiction. It is a cultural aesthetic, philosophy of science, and philosophy of history that explores the developing intersection of the African diaspora’s culture with technology. The term was coined by Mark Dery in 1993 and explored in the late 1990s through conversations led by Alondra Nelson.
“The genre of Afrofuturism presents themes and concerns of the African diaspora through technoculture and speculative fiction, which shows a range of artists and media with an interest in visualizing Black futures that come from Afro-diasporic experiences. While Afrofuturism is usually associated with science fiction, it can also encompass other genres such as fantasy and alternate history.”
Black Panther is one of the most mainstream examples of Afrofuturism. The movie draws on fantastical elements to explore both the history of the African diaspora and imagines a technologically advanced, alternative universe. It shows a fictional, uncolonized, and untouched part of Africa, Wakanda. Black Panther introduced Afrofuturism to a larger audience and has become beloved by many. The movie mixes African traditions with technology to create a new world. Black Panther was a film about culture. Not only did it bring Afrofuturism to the forefront, it centered the experiences of Africans, Black Americans, Black women, and other elements of the diaspora.
For this year’s Black History Month, Gleeson has chosen to highlight Afrofuturism in a dynamic display. The following books were written by influential authors such as Octavia Butler and Ta-Nehisi Coates, who set the standard for Afrofuturist authors. To accompany this display, we also curated a playlist on our Youtube channel: “Black Futuristic Revelations” which includes the work from artists Sun Ra, Nina Simone, TCL, and Kendrick Lamar to name a few.
Some of the books that are on display include:
Parable of the Sower – A Science fiction novel by Octavia E. Butler. This novel recounts an apocalypse, highlighting the issues of climate change and social inequality.
The Water Dancer – A debut novel that was set during the era of slavery. The book follows a young boy who discovers he has a power to transport others by recalling certain memories of his past.
Afrofuturism 2.0 – This book describes the transition from ideas of Afrofuturism that were formed in the late 20th century to the present day. Afrofuturism 2.0 broadens the discussion to include the topics of architecture, religion, and philosophy that represent the growth of the emerging global Pan African creative phenomenon.
The Stone Sky – The third book in the Broken Earth Series, is a science fantasy novel about how humanity will either finally be saved or destroyed.
Black Kirby Presents – A catalog to the exhibition that features the work of Stacey Robinson and John Jennings in their first collaboration nom du art Black Kirby. This piece is a collection of Afrofuturist and Hip Hop inspired analysis of the Black experience and history as told by comics .
Gleeson’s outreach Librarian, Chanda Briggs expands on the importance of Afrofuturism in tv and film:
“Black history is rich with imagination and visions of alternate realities and future worlds, transcending the limitations with which we and our ancestors contend(ed). In the midst of turbulent times we can be inspired by fantastic visions and in the last few years, Afrofuturism has provided a necessary remedy to the collective trauma experienced by the Black community. Ushered in by the blockbuster hit, Black Panther, shows like Lovecraft Country and The Watchmen have provided stunning and profound glimpses into the lush and otherworldly recesses of Black imagination.
Where Black Panther imagined a secret society existing outside of colonization and oppression, Lovecraft Country offered a parallel set of supernatural experiences, harnessing the power of its characters to take control and wrestle with the demons of social and systemic harm. Regina King’s portrayal of Angela Abar/ Sister Night existed in an altered reality where the descendents of the Tulsa Massacre received reparations. Not only was this a nuanced portrait of the ways in which society could be impacted by such a reality, it also served as the entry point for many people who had no idea incidents like the Tulsa Massacre even occurred.
With a strong emphasis on harnessing the power of our ancestors as well as our present community, these Afrofuturistic narratives tie themselves deeply into our centers of meaning in ways that those outside of the Black community may not immediately understand. Black Panther was not just a superhero tale, it was a testament to the untapped potential of those who came before us. Lovecraft Country is not just a horror series, it is the embodiment of the horrors of Jim Crow juxtaposed with the strength, resilience and inner magic of Black folks. The Watchmen isn’t just a comic adaptation/ mystery, it is an exploration of the power dynamics underpinning and attempting to undermine the progress of Black Americans.
All of these stories reflect very real experiences while simultaneously calling us into our power. This is Black history. This is Black future.”
The exhibit: Black Futuristic Revelations will be on display in Gleeson Library’s lobby until February 28th.