The celebration of African American history began in 1926, and has expanded from a single week in February, deemed “Negro History Week,” to its current month-long celebration of “Black History Month.” Besides the well-known Black History Month figures such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, there are other untold stories and points of view.
During Black History Month, many are reminded of aspects of society that separate everyone, said Ericka Huggins, social movement lecturer, former member of the Black Panther party and professor. She said race, gender, sexual orientation, class, ability and citizenship status are all socially constructed things that divide society, impacting lives and defining the quality of one’s life.
Huggins will visit Western to give a lecture as part of “Activism Week” put on by the Associated Students Social Issues Resource Center and the Whatcom Peach and Justice Center. The event is broken up in to an activism and advocacy workshop and discussion, followed by a presentation and lecture.
The event begins at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 28 in Arntzen Hall. The workshop, led by Huggins, is from 4 to 5 p.m. at Payne Lounge, on the fourth floor of Arntzen Hall. Afterward, the presentation and lecture will be 6 to 7:30 p.m. in Arntzen Hall 100.
“In terms of activism on a college campus, I think the biggest challenge is fighting apathy and concepts similar to, ‘Oh, I can’t do this because I’m too young, I’m not powerful enough, I don’t have this position, I’m just a student’,” said Heather Siddiqui, AS SIRC assistant coordinator. “But [Huggins] did all that.”
Huggins’ lecture will focus on how individuals can move away from being defined by social constructs, and how to redefine oneself by way of one’s value, compassion and self love, Huggins said.
Leading smaller and more informal discussions is not something that Huggins typically does, Siddiqui said.
Growing up in Washington D.C., Huggins was interested in why there were such noticeable economic, social and political differences between races and classes, she said. Such stratification is very prevalent in D.C., Huggins said.
While attending Lincoln University Philadelphia, Penn., Huggins joined the Black Panther Party, a political group prevalent during the social reform movements of the ‘60s and ‘70s.
“[It was] a human rights organization, not just a black organization, that had chapters throughout the United States and other parts of the world,” Huggins said. “It was an organization determined to bring about justice and peace for people who had been marginalized or oppressed.”
Huggins was a member from 1967 to 1981, and was one of the women who remained in the Black Panther Party the longest – 14 of the organization’s 16-year existence. She became one of the leading members of the party, working with community programs, education and health care – facets of the Black Panther Party that were rarely portrayed by mass media, she said.
Media portrayed Black Panther men and never women, and only depicted the party members constantly fighting court cases and struggling to stop police brutality, Huggins said. Media did not inform people about the Black Panther Party’s 25 community survival programs, Huggins said.
“Police presence in poor communities are quite different from the police in middle to upper class communities,” Huggins said. “They have a different relationship to the people that live there…we wanted to stop that, but that’s not all that we did.”
On Jan. 17, 1969, Huggins’ husband, John Huggins, and Alprentice Carter, both members of the Black Panther Party, were assassinated on the campus of University of California – Los Angeles during what was learned to be a FBI orchestrated event, Huggins said.
The FBI Counter Intelligence Program, COINTELPRO, was an FBI program meant to neutralize student movements, antiwar movements, women’s movement, civil rights movements and other human rights movements, Huggins said.
Three months after the assassination of her husband, Huggins was arrested and spent 14 months awaiting trial and 6 months on trial. COINTELPRO claimed that she had conspired to murder someone, even though she had not, Huggins said. Her involvement in the Black Panthers was also said to be a contributing factor of COINTELPRO targeting her. Huggins was on trial with Bobby Seale, co-founder of the Black Panther Party. Charges against Seale and Huggins were ultimately dropped.
The Black Panther Party ended in 1982 because of the stress and pressure from the FBI and local law enforcement, as well as the lack of money needed to continue to run the community programs, Huggins said. Hundreds of arrests and 28 murders at the hands of law enforcement.
Huggins is currently a professor of sociology at Laney College in Oakland and a professor Women and Gender Studies departments at San Francisco State University and California State University – East Bay, and also a. She has lectured across the United States. She previously lectured at Lewis and Clark College, in Portland, ore. and Gonzaga University before coming to Western.
Since Huggins was directly associated with one of the pivotal parts of the human rights movement in the 60’s and 70’s, black historyis a focus of her lectures and conversations with students. Huggins said African American history is often glazed over or not touched upon at all. By not discussing these issues, society cannot move forward, Huggins said. For example, a white student would benefit from the lesson on U.S. slavery as much as a black student would, she said.
“The point of the dialogue is to heal, move forward and work together,” she said.
When traveling to different colleges and universities to speak, Huggins hopes to spark conversations around her lectures and workshops.
“The dialogue is beneficial to all students on all campuses,” Huggins said. “It is our world and we can take part in redefining our world. Really no one can define our world for us; we are all a part of redefining it.”