Students, faculty, staff and special guests from the community were featured at a special Black History Month program at Vance-Granville Community College on Feb. 11. Entitled “Honoring Our Past, Understanding Our Present & Shaping Our Future,” the educational event in the VGCC Civic Center sought to focus on local history.
“This focus is important,” said VGCC President Dr. Stelfanie Williams in her welcoming remarks, “because too often, we may be familiar with Black History on a national scale, but overlook the Black History that is all around us, right here where we live. Black History is not just about great heroes like George Washington Carver, Langston Hughes, Jackie Robinson or Rosa Parks. It’s also about the everyday, often unsung heroes — regular men and women making a difference in their communities.”
Guest speakers during the program included author Bessye McGhee, accompanied by artist Sallyann Marable Hobson, both from Granville County, as well as local historian George T. “Tem” Blackburn of Henderson. McGhee has published a book, “Our Story: the African American Presence in Granville County,” with assistance and illustrations from Hobson, a retired medical graphic artist and U.S. Naval Reserve veteran. Blackburn is a leader in the Vance County Historical Society and an attorney.
McGhee, a retired teacher and librarian, focused on major figures from Granville County history and the churches, schools and other institutions that have been important to African Americans. “Black history is American history, and we should study it 365 days a year,” McGhee emphasized. “I hope that young people of all races today will try to emulate their ancestors and work together for change.” She also encouraged all attendees to study and write about the history of their own communities.
Blackburn highlighted African Americans from the Vance-Granville area who played key roles in North Carolina history. They included John Chavis, a teacher and preacher who was considered the most well-educated African American of the early 19th century; Henry Plummer Cheatham, a member of Congress; James H. Young, a prominent politician at the state level; Charlotte Hawkins Brown, who founded the Palmer Memorial Institute, a trailblazing Southern prep school; and Judge Floyd McKissick, a civil rights activist.
The program included inspirational music performed by a choir of students, faculty and staff from VGCC’s South Campus in Granville County.
VGCC students also took part through an essay/poetry/spoken-word contest. The winner, College Transfer student Shanice Wilkins of Louisburg, read her poem, entitled “I Never Knew,” during the program. Wilkins described what she had discovered about African American history and concluded, “I am proud and thankful for my ancestors, my present, and I’m honored to be a part of the future.”
Second place went to Human Services Technology-Substance Abuse student Angelique Taylor of Macon, for an entry entitled “Past, Present and Future Must Meet,” while Granville Early College High School/College Transfer student Ulia Hargrove of Stovall placed third, with “My History is Black.” Honorable mention went to Meri Beth Blake of Warrenton, a Medical Office Administration/Medical Coding student.
Another student contribution to the day was a painting on display in the Civic Center lobby that was inspired by a work by African American painter and graphic artist Aaron Douglas, who played a leading role in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. VGCC Art students, along with their instructor, Isaac Talley, created the piece.
William Clements, head of the VGCC Criminal Justice program, also made remarks. He said that celebrating history was important, but it was equally key to understand the present. Clements presented troubling statistics on incarceration and violent crime and argued that the country still has an “illness” of racial division. Closing remarks were offered by VGCC Basic Skills Department Chair Greg Nash.