Black History Month kickoff to celebrate extraordinary stories of ordinary people

February 4, 2015 | Events, Research, UToday, — Languages, Literature and Social Sciences
By Cynthia Nowak

“Life is more than selfies, and the journey is about more than you.”



That’s the core of the message Dr. Willie McKether, associate dean of the College of Languages, Literature and Social Sciences, plans to share with students and community members at the Feb. 7 luncheon that will kick off Black History Month at UT.

Calling on his background as an anthropologist and historian, McKether will talk about the oral histories in the Edrene Cole African American History Collection that he helped establish in collaboration with the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library System, which houses the project.

“Thanks to a technology grant, I was able to do 25 interviews of African-American residents who were either born or raised in Toledo between 1940 and 1960, or who moved here within the same time period,” he explained.

Although Edrene Cole died before the project began, the collection’s name honors the longtime Toledo educator who also wrote local histories.

Documenting the seemingly ordinary lives of the project’s participants — from assembly-line workers to lawyers, from teachers to barbers to jazz musicians — was a deeply moving experience for McKether. “They would usually say, ‘I don’t have much to talk about’ — then they’d share these amazing stories,” he said.

Encountering racism was an inescapable part of their lives, he noted: “Like Gladys Glenn, whose husband was a Tuskegee airman, and their experiences in Alabama. She was pregnant and her husband was in uniform; she was forced to give up her seat on a bus, and he had to watch without saying much.”

The older adults McKether interviewed maintained a longer view of their lives that young people today need to understand: “The people who came before us had experiences. In many ways they understood that those experiences were not only personal, but collective as well, and paved the way for us today.

“The progress we’ve made in race relations over the past 50 or 60 years have been made because of the selfless acts of these people who were not thinking about themselves. ‘I may not see the results in my lifetime’ is a phrase I heard a lot,” he said.

The oral histories in the collection also highlight the importance of service: “Regardless of their accomplishments in life, what they say consistently is they want to be remembered for helping other people,” McKether said.

A video that includes segments of some of the interviews will be shown at the luncheon.

The kickoff event, which runs from noon until 2 p.m. in the Student Union Auditorium, is sponsored by The University of Toledo, Study Hour Club and the Toledo chapter of The Links Inc., and will include musical performances by the UT Gospel Choir.

The event is free and open to UT students, faculty and staff, but a ticket must be obtained by calling the Office of Excellence and Multicultural Student Success at 419.530.2261 or emailing

Tickets for members of the general public are $20 and may be purchased by contacting Erin Thomas at 419.530.5214 or

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