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Rededication of Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center marks start of Black History Month

Jan. 18, 2005, 10:51 AM

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The rededication of the renovated home of the Bishop
Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center at Vanderbilt University will be
held on Tuesday, Feb. 1, kicking off a month of activity marking Black
History Month.

The center, led by director Frank Dobson, will sponsor lectures
including a Feb. 21 appearance by Angela Davis, a film festival and a
series of Living History Lunches featuring prominent members of the
Nashville black community as speakers. Two art exhibits will add to the
celebration: a temporary display by Khamisi Leonard and Shannen Hill,
and a permanent collection of African artifacts donated by Vanderbilt
Law School alumnus Lewis “Scotty” Greenwald of Spring, Texas.

All of the activities are free and open to the public.

“I hope this grand opening and packed schedule of events will signal a
new era for the Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center and the
Vanderbilt campus,” Dobson said. “We‘re starting off thinking about
legacies, in the belief that the struggles of the past have laid the
foundation for a promising future.”

The Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center at Vanderbilt
University was dedicated in 1984 in memory of the first African
American student admitted to Vanderbilt in 1953. The center aims to
build a sense of community among all students and to provide support
services for black students.

“All of our destinies are so intertwined that a student from China or
anywhere else will be touched by the African American experience on
campus,” Dobson said. “It‘s important to know as much as possible about
each other as we live together on this planet.”

The Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center building in the heart
of the Vanderbilt campus has undergone a $2.5 million renovation and
expansion. A student lounge, three offices, library, computer lab and
seminar room have been added to the 4,100-square-foot facility. An
adjoining building adds another 4,000 square feet that can seat 100
people for classes, lectures, performances and other gatherings. A
connecting link between the two buildings will be home to a catering
kitchen, offices and art gallery.

The public is invited to view the space during the rededication from
5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 1. In addition to remarks by
Vanderbilt dignitaries including Chancellor Gordon Gee, a plaque will
be unveiled in honor of Bishop Joseph Johnson.

Living History Lunches

On Wednesday, Feb. 2, the Vanderbilt BCC begins a weekly series of
community lunches featuring speakers who are African American leaders
in Nashville. The lunches will be held from noon to 2 p.m. at the
center. The lineup:

* Feb. 2, Tommie Morton-Young, the first black graduate of Peabody
College in 1955 who went on to a distinguished career as a teacher and
* Feb. 9, Dr. Charles Kimbrough, a civil rights leader and president of
the Nashville branch of the National Association for the Advancement of
Colored People for four terms, and also a decorated veteran of the
Korean War and retired veterinarian.
* Feb. 16, Russell Merriweather, business manager of Lane College from
1960 to 1989, and from 1950 to 1967 vice president of Citizens Bank,
one of the largest black-owned banks in the nation.
* Feb. 23, Mattie Shavers Johnson, author of three poetry books and a
teacher at the elementary through college levels, in addition to
publishing the book A Place Called Meharry, written by her late husband
Dr. Charles W. Johnson Sr.

Lecture Series

The Vanderbilt BCC will host three prominent lectures during the Spring 2004 term.

* Monday, Feb. 7, at 7 p.m. in Room 103 of Wilson
Hall, Buck O‘Neil will speak on the legacy of the Negro Baseball
Leagues. He is a former Negro Baseball Leagues player and coach, and in
1962 broke the coaching color barrier in the major leagues when he was
hired by the Chicago Cubs. He played with some of the greatest players
of the era, including Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson.
* Thursday, Feb. 10, at 7 p.m. in Room 103 of Wilson
Hall, John Leahr and Herb Heilbrun will speak. The two men attended
elementary school together in Cincinnati, and both served in the
military during World War II. Heilbrun, who is white, became a bomber
pilot in Europe. Because Leahr is black, he was not eligible to be a
bomber pilot and became one of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, a group of
black men who escorted bombers and never lost a plane. Leahr and
Heilbrun discovered their link after the war and speak about their
personal story and the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen.
* Monday, Feb. 21, at 7 p.m. at the Vanderbilt Stadium Club, Angela
Davis will speak on prisoners‘ rights, racism and political repression.
The activist, feminist and scholar was a controversial figure in the
1960s and 1970s, when she was fired from her job at the University of
California in Los Angeles because of her ties to the Communist Party,
and later placed on the FBI‘s Ten Most Wanted List before being
arrested and charged with supplying the gun for a politically motivated
prison killing. After 16 months in prison, she was tried and
declared innocent. She is a professor in the History of Consciousness
Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Film Series

Each Thursday from Feb. 10 to March 3, the Vanderbilt BCC will sponsor
a film at the center by a black filmmaker from noon to 2 p.m.

* Feb. 10, Joe‘s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads (1984) by Spike Lee, exploring the culture of the corner barbershop.
* Feb. 17, Bless Their Little Hearts (1984) by Billy Woodberry, about a black family‘s struggles during the Reagan administration.
* Feb. 24, A Powerful Thang (1991) by Zeinabu Irene Davis, a love story set in small-town Ohio.
* March 3, Illusions (1983) by Julie Dash, set in the Hollywood film industry of the 1940s and dealing with blacks who “pass” as white.

The Black History Month lineup will mark the beginning of a more active
and vital black cultural center now that renovations to its facility
are complete, Dobson said.

“Our goal is to be a center for all students on this campus, a place
that will enrich and diversify their college experience,” he said.

Media contact: Jim Patterson, (615) 322-NEWS

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