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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Exhibit celebrates Black History Month

URI Library exhibit features African American history and Civil Rights Movement highlights
By Sylvia Bogusz, URI

Ida D. McGhee, adjunct assistant professor of libraries, shows the most
significant piece of the display, a photo of a teenage boy protesting
peacefully for civil rights while being attacked by police and canines.
Its appearance on the front page of The New York Times is said to
have prompted President John F. Kennedy’s call for national unity. 
KINGSTON, R.I. – Did you know that an African American invented the potato chip? What do you know about the attacks on civil rights protestors in the 1960s by police who used dogs and fire hoses to subdue them? 

You can learn about these and related topics this month simply by visiting a lobby display at the University of Rhode Island’s Robert L. Carothers Library and Learning Commons.

Ida D. McGhee, adjunct assistant professor of libraries, developed the “African American Civil Rights Before and Beyond: Inspiring Insights and Stories Yes, There’s An App For That!” display that has extensive information about the Civil Rights movement and the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Part of URI’s celebration of Black History Month, the exhibit includes many artifacts given to McGhee by friends from Nigeria, Malawi, and Tanzania. 

There are fabrics and handcrafted statues, bowls, and cups made from a variety of wood, including ebony. McGhee said people who view these artifacts might be interested in reading the library’s edition of Africa Woodcarvings: Miniature Wood Carvings of Africa by William Fagg.

McGhee has also included several books in her exhibit, highlighting such historic figures as Paul Robeson, Louis Armstrong and King. 

A model of a plane flown by the Tuskegee Airmen known as
“The Red Tails” is also a part of the URI Carothers library
exhibit. The airmen were the first African American
fighter plane unit in the U.S. military. They called
themselves The Red Tails because they
painted the tails of their fighter planes red. 
There are compelling titles such as When the Children Marched, and The Montgomery Bus Boycott that tell true stories of memorable events as well as significant African Americans who fought for equality. One photograph that McGhee considers to be one of the display's most significant pieces shows a 17-year-old teenager being attacked by police and their dogs. These critical moments captured in the nation’s media prompted President John F. Kennedy to call for an end to the injustice.

There is also a model plane representing the Tuskegee Airmen, who were known as “The Red Tails,” the first African-American fighter plane unit in the American military. They were called The Red Tails because they painted the tails of their fighter planes red.

McGhee has a personal interest in the exhibit since her family also experienced some big changes in the 1950s and 1960s. Her parents moved to Connecticut from Montgomery, Ala. for a chance at a better life and acceptance.

“My father got a job and a house within nine months of moving to Connecticut from Montgomery,” McGhee said. “We might have never had the chance to own a home in Alabama.

“This display is designed to give students and faculty a starting point to initiate interest and conversation,” McGhee said. “There is more to African American history than slavery. African Americans have made many contributions to this country. So, if students need a break from their studies or local residents want to see the display for themselves, I invite them to visit the lobby exhibit. It’s right next to the 24-hour room.”

For more information, contact Ida D. McGhee at 401.874.2640 or visit the library. Library hours are: Monday – Thursday, 8 a.m. – 2 a.m., Friday 8 a.m. – 8 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m – 8 p. m., and Sunday 1 p.m. – 2 a.m.

URI Photos by Michael Salerno Photography.