The uncomfortable fact is, there aren’t very many black people in the Pacific Northwest: 4.2 percent of the Washington population, 2.2 percent of the Oregon population and 2.3 percent of the Clark County population, according to U.S. Census.
That makes observing certain cultural milestones and celebrations, such as Black History Month, a little tricky for local African-Americans. What if you had to remind everyone, year after year, about the existence of and reason for Easter?
“Living in the Northwest, it is easy to be overlooked and feel like you don’t belong. Black History Month is not automatically recognized,” artist Claudia Carter said. “We have to insist that it be recognized.”
To make that happen, Carter and the Vancouver branch of the NAACP have worked to bring music, artworks and education to downtown Vancouver for several Black History Month events. Black History month is officially February, but the first of these festivities, “African American Culture in the Pacific Northwest,” is set for Saturday afternoon at the Vancouver Community Library.
Here’s the day’s schedule:
• 1 p.m., African dancing and talking drum with Habiba Addo.
• 2 p.m., Buffalo Soldiers of Fort Vancouver, a talk by Frazier Raymond, president of the Moses Williams (Pacific Northwest) chapter of the Buffalo Soldiers.
Black History Month events:
What: “African American Culture in the Pacific Northwest,” featuring speakers, storytellers, African drumming and artworks.
When: 1 to 6 p.m., Saturday.
Where: Vancouver Community Library, 901 C St., Vancouver.
What: Black History Month community art exhibit.
When: Opening reception: 5 to 9 p.m. Feb. 1. Regular exhibit hours: Noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, or via Niche Wine Bar after 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Exhibit on display: Feb. 1 to 23.
Where: 1015 Main St., Vancouver.
What: “NAACP Generations: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow,” a panel discussion.
When: 7 p.m. Feb. 7.
Where: Clark County Historical Museum, 1511 Main St., Vancouver.
Admission: $5; $4 for seniors and students; free for under 18.
What: “Soundtrack for a Revolution,” a documentary film and follow-up discussion with Ridgefield resident David Watson, “The Doctor of Bebop,” about music in the civil rights movement.
When: 7 p.m. Feb. 27.
Where: Old Liberty Theater, 115 N. Main Ave., Ridgefield.
• 3 p.m., African American Women Through History with Maima Fahnbulleh.
• 4 p.m., Artworks and talk by Vancouver ceramicist and sculptor Russell Ford about his tenure as artist-in-residence at a studio in Zambia. Ford’s artworks, along with pieces by Carter and several others, will be on display throughout February at the library.
The following week, during downtown Vancouver’s regular monthly First Friday Art Walk, the Angst Gallery will open a community exhibit about “all aspects of African-American life, culture and history. All media are welcome” in a still-open call for art for this exhibit. You can submit up to three pieces for $10. Drop-off times at Angst are 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday or noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday. Angst Gallery is at 1015 Main St.
There’s an opening night reception set for 5 p.m. Feb. 1. The exhibit stays up through Feb. 23.
Stories of local black history and the key role played by the Vancouver NAACP are the focus of the regular First Thursday panel discussion hosted by the Clark County Historical Museum. “NAACP Generations: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” will feature several past and present presidents and officers of the Vancouver chapter of the NAACP, including Earl Ford, Bridgette Fahnbulleh and Jasmine Rucker Tolbert.
The moderator will be author Jane Elder Wulff, who was hired by the Vancouver NAACP to research and write its history, and who published “First Families of Vancouver’s African American Community” in 2012.
“The Vancouver NAACP was established during World War II when better paying jobs in the shipyards brought forth the single largest increase in Vancouver’s African-American population,” Fahnbulleh said. “For more than 70 years, the organization has served the local community by working to combat and eradicate racial discrimination in the area.”
Today, Fahnbulleh added, the need to fight racism and support local black culture has never been greater. “There is a strong need in Clark County for culturally affirming resources to inspire and support our diverse community members,” Fahnbulleh said. “Many people are feeling culturally isolated.”
Fahnbulleh, the outgoing Vancouver NAACP president, will talk about the group’s current priorities; and Tolbert, the incoming president, will look to the future. The event is set for 7 p.m. Feb. 7 at the Clark County Historical Museum, 1511 Main St. General admission is $5.
‘Soundtrack for a Revolution’
At the end of the month, Ridgefield’s Meaningful Movies documentary series will screen a film that’s sure to get you singing along with the struggle for civil rights. “Soundtrack for a Revolution,” released in 2009, traces the efforts of civil rights activists with an emphasis on the music that sustained them. The film features historical footage as well as live performances by current and recent stars like John Legend, Ritchie Havens, the Blind Boys of Alabama and The Roots (the house band on The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon).
Perhaps best of all, a treasured local jazz singer and bandleader will be on hand to speak after the movie. He’s David Watson, aka “The Doctor of Bebop,” and a Ridgefield resident for the last several years.
Look for a story about Watson in an upcoming edition of The Columbian.