Renowned African-American studies scholar speaks at UM
Although the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in 1863, African-Americans’ struggle for true freedom lasted “decade after decade after decade,” Darlene Clark Hine said Monday.
“It was like running a marathon,” said Hine, one of the foremost researchers on African-American history, who spoke Monday as part of the University of Montana President’s Lecture Series.
Hine outlined prominent black professionals after the collapse of the Reconstruction Era who helped lay the foundation for the civil rights movement of the 1960s and beyond.
Hine, a Board of Trustees Professor of African American Studies and Professor of History at Northwestern, gave her talk on “The Rights of Citizens: Black Professionals in Medicine and Law, 1895-1954.”
The African-American Studies Department at UM almost wasn’t able to bring her to Missoula. Department Director Tobin Miller Shearer realized a year ago it wouldn’t have the funds to bring in a major speaker to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the program.
So he took matters into his own hands.
“I did a 500-mile #RideForBlackSolidarity where I raised money to make that possible,” said Shearer, who studied under Hine as a graduate student at Northwestern.
Along with the help of Richard Drake of the President’s Lecture Series, the department was able to extend the invitation to Hine, to which “she graciously said yes.”
The black professional class, as Hine put it, was made up but not limited to the teachers, nurses, doctors and lawyers who helped make freedom mean something.
She began with Frederick Douglass, with the words he spoke next to his picture, “Once you learn to read, you will forever be free.”
“I have Frederick Douglass here not just because he was a great abolitionist,” Hine said, “but also because he was the founder and editor of one of the most important newspapers of his generation, The North Star.”
She said she began researching the professionals of the time who were talking, thinking and struggling to really understand freedom and making sure African-Americans understood that freedom is a constant struggle.
Her examples included Mary McLeod Bethune, one of the founders of Bethune-Cookman University and founder of the National Council of Negro Women.
“Mary McLeod Bethune was an educator, she was a visionary but she was very, very much devoted to the elevation of black women,” Hine said. “That was one of her passions.”
Hine told a story of how Bethune told the National Council of Negro Women to be ready for struggle and raised a lot of money to stand steadfast behind Rosa Parks and the boycott of the Montgomery bus system.
Then there’s Benjamin Mays, who served as the president of Morehouse College for 27 years and transformed it into an elite educational institution in the South for black men. Mays also served as a mentor to “his prized student,” Martin Luther King Jr.
Hine spoke of several black nurses and physicians who were revolutionary for their time, like Mary Eliza Mahoney, who founded the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses.
She said white nurses of the time did not want to recognize Mahoney and other black women who became nurses in the early 1900s, so the African-American nurses followed the example of other black organizations and formed a “national association.”
“It came to me that the contrast, that what they’re trying to say is, ‘There’s an American association of this, that, and the other but it excludes us. So we have to develop a national association and begin to see ourselves as a nation within a nation.’
“For me,” Hine said, “black nationalism has a history, but we think of it only as something Malcolm X espoused. Nationalism was something that African-Americans used to frame their organizational and their aspirational desires.”
An influential African-American physician was Matilda Evans, who was the first black physician licensed in South Carolina and founded the Taylor Lane Hospital in 1901.
Evans believed three things comprised real freedom: First that every American has the right to education. Second, every American has a right to citizenship and right to vote and to have that vote count. Last, that every American has a right to health care.
The research on the history of the black professional class continues for Hine, a project she started in the ’80s.
“Black people did not anticipate it would take at least 60 years to actually be free and some would say the struggle even continues to this day,” Hine said.