Black History comes to campus

An actor portrays Bass Reeves, the first black U.S. Deputy Marshal, in a play titled “Portraits of Courage: African-Americans You Wish You’d Known,” on Feb. 15. Katie Pitchford/Photo editor

An actor portrays Bass Reeves, the first black U.S. Deputy Marshal, in a play titled “Portraits of Courage: African-Americans You Wish You’d Known,” on Feb. 15. Katie Pitchford/Photo editor

Linfield celebrated Black History Month with three events, including a lecture by a former Broadway actor, who urged students to aspire to lead the best lives possible.

Charles Holt, former member of Broadway’s The Lion King production’s cast, began the events on Feb. 8.

More than a dozen students gathered in Ice Auditorium to listen to Holt’s personal acting narrative: a story about leaving a lucrative career at IBM, his first acting auditions, receiving a part in the Lion King and eventually quitting the show to become a motivational speaker.

Holt used his experiences to urge students to aspire to excellence, to be active participants in their life stories and to embrace community.

He told the story of his first performance with the Lion King cast in December 1999, describing the view from his costume as the back leg of an elephant.

“I just remember looking out of the costume and seeing members of the audience crying. I was struck by how the show had affected people,” Holt said. “It’s easy to forget that what you are doing is changing someone’s life, and you have to ask yourself if you are constantly giving your best.”

The grueling schedule of a Broadway actor — dance and vocal classes, rehearsal, shows and minimum sleep — forced him to evaluate why he was devoting himself to his profession, he said.

“That’s when I started understanding what excellence was,” Holt said. “Excellence isn’t a noun. It’s an action word. It’s what’s happening now.”

After challenging students to discover their passions and to pursue them wholeheartedly within their own communities, Holt opened the discussion for questions from the audience.

Holt gave several students advice about subjects ranging from how to find your passion in life, to ideas for graduate school, to choosing a major that you love.

He ended the night with an impromptu, a cappella performance of “Endless Night,” a piece from the Lion King.
“The world is waiting for you to step up,” Holt said. “You have the power.”

A series of live character sketches called, “Portraits of Courage: African-Americans You Wish You’d Known,” on Feb. 15 were the second Black History Month events.

Two actors performed six different monologues, all written by Colin Cox, of African-American figures who are overlooked in American history.

“Today I want to talk about more than just slavery,” Cox said. “I want to talk about all of American history,” he said.

The various character sketches revealed the important roles that African-Americans from Ida Bennet Wells, who was the first black woman to own property in Los Angeles, to Langston Hughes, an American author who was key in shaping the jazz poetry genre have played in U.S. history.

The events concluded with a presentation titled, “The Political Thought of Frederick Douglass by Assistant Professor of Political Science Nick Buccola.

Buccola provided a brief sketch of Douglass’ life — from his origin as a slave to his work as an anti-slavery newspaper editor and a political activist.

“Douglass’ political thought is so moving because it is rooted in his personal experience in slavery,” Buccola said.

Douglass appealed to self-ownership in matters of both race and sex, rejecting racism, sexism and xenophobia, Buccola said.

Buccola also gave historical context for Douglass’ political thought, stressing the importance of understanding that Douglass lived in a time when there were anti-sufferage movements and objections to Chinese immigration into America.

“Today, Americans tend to view Douglass as either ‘conservative Douglass’ or ‘progressive Douglass,’” Buccola said. “We need to think about the context in which he lived and interpret his political thought thoroughly.”

Buccola’s research on Douglass stemmed from his doctoral dissertation at the University of Southern California.

“I was struck by the lack of attention to abolitionists by political theorists,” Buccola said. “Once you start studying abolitionists, you are immediately drawn to Frederick Douglass.”

Buccola recently published a book titled “In Pursuit of Liberty: The Civic Liberalism of Frederick Douglass.”

“We tend to undermine the historical importance of not just African-Americans, but also of other cultures in America,” freshman Stephanie Stovall said. “Someday, I hope we’ll learn to recognize other cultures as an integral part of American history, without needing separate events to distinguish how they have contributed to U.S. history.”

Joanna Peterson/Culture editor

Joanna Peterson can be reached at

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