NORMAN — Members of the community came together Sunday to celebrate Black History Month during the first Norman Family African-American Heritage Program hosted at Mainsite Art Gallery.
Norman Arts Council board member Anthony Francisco said the event got started after discussion of Black Heritage programs at the University of Oklahoma, realizing there was not one for the whole community to attend.
The event tied in with one of Mainsite’s current exhibits called “Selfie”. For example, visitors could go take a “selfie”, or a picture of themselves, with a gallery picture of someone like Malcom X.
“The theme of this exhibit is about ‘selfies’, so our idea was to have ‘selfies’ of African American history figures,” Francisco said.
The exhibit features 25 different artists from all over the country, with many of them being from Oklahoma, said Erinn Gavaghan, Norman Arts Council executive director. The exhibit will be at Mainsite for the rest of the month.
“We’ve been in this space for a little over three years now and we love to host community events like this so it’s really great to have all of you here today,” Gavaghan said.
The event also featured a short movie about the life of Nelson Mandela, two dance presentations by the Contemporary Dance of Oklahoma Ensemble and two songs. Everyone was encouraged to join in on the first song, “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing”, and the Norman Alumni Chapter Kappa Khorus sang the Kappa Alpha Psi Hymn.
Dancers for the evening were from the University School of Dance and included McKinley Willis, Hannah Jew and Megan Storey with choreography by Kiosh O’Neal Monroe.
The night ended with a showing of “The Tuskegee Airmen”. Tammara Williams-Dias with the OU African/African-American Studies Program, provided some information about the movie before the lights were turned down.
“In 1940 there was a prevailing opinion that African Americans could not participate in aviation in the military,” Williams-Dias said. “To disprove this myth an experiment was launched at Tuskegee in which a number of soldiers were trained to be pilots of the civil air pilot training program.”
At the same time here in Norman, the U.S. Air Navy was looking to expand into the Norman area so they took over the Max Westheimer Airport and trained a number of pilots here in the civil pilot training program, she said.
Thousands of pilots came through the Norman program, but the military was segregated at that time. A similar program was happening in Tuskegee at the time, training only black aviators, Williams-Dias said.
“One of the unique things about the Tuskegee airmen that you may or may not know is that they were a very highly successful unit. They were able to disprove the myth of black inferiority that was prevailing in the military at the time and in part because of their efforts, along with the efforts of other successful units in the military, military segregation was ended after the end of World War II,” she said.
The film tells the story of the Tuskegee airmen and all that went into the creation of their place, Williams-Dias said.
The event Sunday was sponsored by Kappa Alpha Psi, Arvest Bank and Norman Arts Council.
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