Kaye Wise Whitehead, Ph.D., assistant professor of communication and affiliate assistant professor of African and African American history at Loyola University Maryland, was a featured speaker during the African American History Month program at the White House on Feb. 19.
Whitehead is one of only four experts from across the country who were invited to speak at the event, themed "At the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality: The Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington" and co-sponsored by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History and the White House. She and her fellow historians discussed the Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington, along with health care, immigration, education reform, and gun control before an invited audience of 200 guests that included ambassadors, judges, and White House officials.
"It's difficult for me to express in words how honored I am to have been part of something so substantively relevant to our ongoing dialogue about African American history," said Whitehead. "This is a historic year, with the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation and the 50th anniversary of both the March on Washington and Dr. King's release of the 'Letter from a Birmingham Jail,' and it is a good time to have these types of discussions and connect them to some of the issues that we are grappling with today."
Whitehead addressed historical and contemporary topics, including the role of black women in the anti-slavery struggle and during the Civil Rights Movement, and her concerns about education policies that are not designed to address some of the systemic problems that exist in impoverished communities. She said many of the issues making headlines today–gun control, education reform, the classroom to prison pipeline—are veiled discussions that do not address the serious problem this nation has with talking about race.
"I once believed that Black History Month should be discontinued and that black history should be integrated into the American history curriculum, but after studying the social, political, and economic landscape that was painfully obvious throughout the presidential campaign, I now believe Black History Month should continue to be celebrated," said Whitehead. "Many people are still not clear about the contributions that African Americans have made to this country or about how closely our lives and histories are tied to this land. We, as a nation, are not ready to move beyond the deliberate celebration of the contributions people of color and women have made to this country."
Whitehead was joined on the panel by professors from Rutgers University, Howard University, and Lehigh University, and the panel was moderated by a professor of African American studies from the University of Virginia.
The event focused on the 2013 national theme for African American History Month set via proclamation by President Obama to celebrate this year's 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.
Whitehead’s extensive scholarship and publications on slavery and race relations in 18th and 19th century America include forthcoming books Emilie Frances Davis, Her Life, In Her Own Words: 1863-1865; The Emancipation Proclamation: Race Relations on the Eve of Reconstruction; and Dear Reader, Whoever Thou Art: Interpreting the 1749-1751 Diary of William Chancellor. In addition, she frequently appears on radio and television programs to discuss issues related to race, gender, and family.
More information about Kaye Whitehead can be found on her website, kayewisewhitehead.com. You can follow her on Twitter at @KayeWhitehead.