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November 8, 2013
CONTACT: Gordon Ovenshine

History series explores apartheid rule

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Racial injustice during South African apartheid and the black empowerment movement in South Africa and in the U.S. will be explored through film and discussion during Slippery Rock University's "History Series on... Racial Justice."

"What we're trying to do in the history department is to argue that if you don't know your history, you're like someone walking through the world with amnesia," said Lia Paradis, associate professor of history and department chair. "By studying something like apartheid, we can see ways that situations elsewhere in the world have similar ingredients. We want students to understand what comes out of certain historical choices and, we hope, instill a spirit of activism."

The racial justice series begins at 7:30 p.m., Nov. 14, with the screening of a short documentary followed by discussion called "Apartheid and its Legacy" in Room 105 Vincent Science Center.

Documentary footage of the late Stephen Biko will be accompanied by a discussion of his contribution to the black consciousness movement in the U.S. during the second program, called "Stephen Biko and Black Consciousness," at 7:30 p.m., Nov. 18, in Room 111 Spots World Culture Building. The final event of the series will be a screening of the film "Searching for Sugarman" at 7:30 p.m., Nov. 20, in Room 111 Spotts.

Paradis, Christophas Walker, SRU assistant professor of public health and social work, and Rhea Klenovich, visiting assistant professor of history, will lead discussions following the films

Apartheid was a South African system of racial segregation enforced by the white-minority National Party from 1948 to 1994. The government segregated education, medical care, beaches and public services.

Paradis said the first evening, "Apartheid and Its Legacy," will cover the history of apartheid and explore the leaders who helped overthrow the system, such as former prisoner Nelson Mandela. Mandela, an anti-Apartheid revolutionary who served as president of South Africa from 1994-1999, became the first black South African to hold the office. His government focused on dismantling the legacy of apartheid.

"Stephen Biko and Black Consciousness" explores the impact of the late anti-Apartheid leader. Biko, who was assassinated in 1977 and was an important figure in the black consciousness and empowerment movement of the 1960s and 1970s, Paradis said.

He founded the Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa in the 1960s, which paralleled the Black Power movement in the U.S. Since his death while in police custody, he has been called a martyr of the anti-apartheid movement. He was famous for his slogan "black is beautiful."

Paradis said Biko was a crucial figure in both South African and America racial justice efforts. "He was an icon for American black consciousness and pride," she said.

"Searching for Sugarman" focuses on the life of Detroit musician Sixto Diaz Rodriguez, known professionally as Rodriguez. Paradis said he is the "Bob Dylan of South Africa," providing a voice to the disfranchised. "Searching for Sugarman" won the Best Documentary Film at the Oscars last year.

His career did not get off to a rousing start. He released two, "little-sold" albums in the U.S. in the 1970s. However, his work became successful and influential in South Africa, where he has achieved cult-like status because of his anti-apartheid message, Paradis said.

Paradis said all three movies make connections to American culture, which should help make the series important to students of all backgrounds.

"One of the ways to get our students interested in something on the other side of the world is to make connections to the U.S.," Paradis said.

The history department hopes this year's series will offset cynicism, notions of America being post-racist and will argue that the individual can make a difference.

"We live in an age of cynicism, so part of what this series is about is to look at moments in history where social justice is actually moved forward," she said. "It moved forward because of individuals. If our students learn about these events that happen, they won't feel quite as cynical about their ability do something about them."

Walker said the series includes Biko because he championed social justice as a community organizer. His example can serve as inspiration for SRU students to pursue community service.

"I try to draw connection to some of things they see going on today compared to 30 years ago," Walker said. "Of course the evils of apartheid are extreme things, but we can also look at smaller things like poverty, social injustice, inequality and who stood again those things.

The Apartheid focus is part of the inauguration year for a history department series of events called "History Series On." The program began in September with a first event built around the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march on Washington, D.C.

During February, March and April, the history department will offer events covering the war on drugs and its role in the mass incarceration of non-whites, an exploration of the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"We're also going to have a culinary historian do traditional cooking demonstrations and lecturing on the slave roots of Southern cooking," Paradis said.

The theme for next year's History Series On will be World War I, because August 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the start of that conflict.

The upcoming films and discussion are free.

The history department and SRU's Frederick Douglass Institute are sponsoring the event.

Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.