A Black History Month celebration hosted by WSU and Ogden NAACP was broadcast live from Ogden Union Station on Friday, Feb. 12 — on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday and the day the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was founded in 1909.
The second week of February was chosen for Black History Week, which started in 1926, to coincide with the birthdays of President Lincoln (Feb. 12) and Frederick Douglass (Feb. 20).
The evening of “music and prose that helped fuel the Civil Rights Movement,” produced by Alicia Washington of Good Company Theatre and a member of Ogden NAACP’s Executive Committee, featured Utah performing artists and special guests from out-of-state.
“Justice and equality is something all of us need to be a part of,” said host Betty Sawyer, president of Ogden NAACP, in her opening statements. Co-host Nailah Mansa, of the NAACP chapter at Weber State University, mentioned that it was Kent State University students who pushed for Black History Week to be a monthlong celebration. “We can never underestimate the importance of young people in this movement,” Mansa added.
The first Black History Month took place at Kent State in 1970 and was formally recognized by President Gerald Ford in 1976.
Women played a significant role in the early leadership of the Ogden NAACP, which formed in 1944 after the dubious killing of a young Black man by an Ogden police officer. Mary Louise Finch advanced the Ogden chapter, and the first two branch presidents were women: Ruby Timms Price and Sadie Louden.
Friday’s event proved that the community can come together, even virtually, for a profoundly moving celebration. The high-quality livestream by Daniel Martinez of Junction City podcasts, from inside the historic setting of Ogden Union Station, with audio and visuals by UT Audio and Rail City Productions, made for a beautiful and enjoyable broadcast to view.
Performances evoking the spirit of the civil rights movement and the continued fight for social justice, started with the “Black National Anthem” by Quaceé Dorby. Terri Hughes, WSU social work major and president of the Weber State NAACP chapter, followed with a beautiful rendition of the Sam Cooke song “A Change is Gonna Come.”
Where do we go from here? These words, reminiscent of the Martin Luther King Jr. speech, were repeated throughout a remarkable poem by special guest Demoni Wallace, a high school student, poet, dancer and artist from Cleveland, Ohio, that asks, “How do you reach the top of a mountain that continues to grow by the day?” and ends with hope, “We go to an equitable and loving future.”
Zenobia Smith, “Kansas City Songbird” and native of Ogden, sang a spirited medley of civil rights-era songs, including “I Don’t Believe He Brought Me This Far (To Leave Me)” and “Hold On Just a Little While Longer.” Gloria Johnson-Stanton, educator and gospel singer, performed “My Funny Valentine” and “At Last,” and Awegust the Great brought “Dragon Energy” and a tribute to the late Joe McQueen.
The song “Young Joe McQueen” tells “his story and my story,” and another was inspired by the book “The New Jim Crow,” with characters based on the chapter that chronicles the rebirth of slavery; plantation owner, indentured servant and a Black man.
“Black history is American history. It is our history,” said Betty Sawyer in closing. And a moment of silence was offered for lives lost to police brutality and COVID-19.
Other event sponsors were Ogden City, Ogden’s Union Station, Project Success Coalition, Good Company Theatre and Grounds for Coffee.
The broadcast is still available to view on Facebook @OgdenNAACPofficial.
For information about becoming a member of the Ogden NAACP, or to offer a donation to help eliminate disparities in our community, visit naacpogdenchapter.org.