WHS Celebrates Black History Month

The Wisconsin Historical Society celebrated its 3rd annual Black History Month Open House on Tuesday, Feb. 19. Community members could see the African American archival and museum collections on display and participate in a listening session about the creation of a new Wisconsin history museum on Madison’s Capitol Square.

WHS Black History Month

“The importance of black history is to remind us who we are and who we can be potentially,” Tanika Apaloo, Community Engagement and Diversity Liaison for the Wisconsin Historical Society, told Madison365. “It certainly should be something that is more than one month. It’s something that in my position and in my role that I recognize and celebrate every day.

“Black History Month is very important to me. I think that a lot of the challenges that are occurring in our black community would be mediated in a lot of ways if youths and adults alike new more about their history and their culture,” Apaloo added. “I think the relationship between culture and history is an intangible one and its difficult for us to move forward and be confident in who we are without both knowing where we come from and knowing our purpose.”

Archival documents have been on display for Black History Month in an exhibit called “African American Activism in Wisconsin,” featuring documents that tell the story of the fight for African American suffrage in the 19th century. This includes the proposed 1846 state constitution that allowed granted voting rights to African American men and the 1866 Wisconsin Supreme Court decision in favor of Ezekiel Gillespie that finally enacted this right. Moving forward a century, the exhibit highlights documents from the 1960s actions in Milwaukee to desegregate schools and enact fair housing legislation and also features items commemorating the 50th anniversary of the UW-Madison Black Student Strike.

Wes Covington

One of the highlights that the museum archives feature is a display about the Negro Baseball League as it came through Wisconsin. The WHS created a prototype, interactive story map to explore the reach of African American baseball in Wisconsin. Although Wisconsin did not host a long-lived Negro League team like the Kansas City Monarchs or the Chicago American Giants, black ballplayers were a regular presence in communities throughout Wisconsin for decades, even in small northern towns with few African American residents.

“This is important for sharing stories. And it’s everyday stories,” Apaloo said. “Some people think that something has to be very significant to be historic. That’s not the case. In oral history interviews, there are so many everyday people who have done very significant things. They are unsung heroes, so to speak that had that oral history not been discussed or discovered, we would never had known about it. And, they, too, would have never realized what they are doing is historic.”

–David Dahmer, Madison365 Publisher and Editor-in-Chief


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