African-American music…a historical perspective

January 30, 1997


The toe-tapping rhythms of jazz. The “raise your hands” joyousness of gospel. The soul-searching depths of the blues. “There is a magnetism about traditional African-American music that so many Americans seem to be able to relate to,” says music Prof. James Standifer.

Standifer, director of U-M’s Afro-American Music Collection and professor of music, says that when Africans were brought to the United States, they retained their roots through the creation of new music. “It became the heart of people wanting to feel a part of a new place, and it was that feeling that caught on, and captured people’s attention and still does.”

The U-M Afro-American Music Collection, founded in 1972, includes photos, manuscripts, sheet music, and Standifer’s own video archive comprised of more than 50 video interviews with famous African-American musicians. For more information on African-American music, contact Standifer at (313) 764-2515. The role of the African-American church

The Black church is the center of African-American culture, says U-M social work Prof. Robert Taylor, author of two books and more than 10 articles on the topic of African-American life and churches. “Their (churches) role is beyond spiritual,” Taylor says. Because the church is the only institution entirely owned and controlled by Black people within the Black community, its function also includes political advocacy and economic development—a means of strengthening and supporting the whole community.

“African Americans are generally more religious—not only because of tradition, but because they feel the church makes Black life a little easier,” Taylor says. According to his studies, 82 percent of African Americans believe that churches have improved the lives of Blacks in America. For more information, Taylor can be reached at (313) 936-2618 or (313) 7630045. Educating students earlier about minorities is a “must”

Teaching young children about the history of minority groups–traditionally excluded from early classroom lessons— should begin in elementary school, says Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, U-M assistant professor of sociology.

“The issue past and present is that there are not enough qualified people to teach these courses,” Bonilla-Silva says.

He emphasizes the importance of required courses, on race and ethnicity instituted by many universities, including the University of California at Berkeley, Cornell University, Columbia University and Dennison College.

However, he stresses that many of these courses are not serving their intended purpose. “Students taking watered-down courses that fulfill the requirement with instructors who are not trained on the issues that these courses are supposed to cover, may not get the much-needed information about the past and present situations of racial minorities in this country,” he says.

Bonilla-Silva teaches two courses that identify African Americans, Native Americans, Chicanos, Puerto Ricans and Asian Americans in the United States as the most typically understudied minority groups. He can be reached for further comments at (313) 763-9397. North to South, Black soldiers played major role in the Civil War

When people consider the Civil War, they tend to view it as a war over the issue of slavery, and, therefore, tend to forget that many Blacks actually fought in the “war between the states.”

U-M history Prof. David Fitzpatrick says that Black soldiers played a significant role in fighting the war, and some African Americans even fought for the Confederacy.

To learn more about the role of Black soldiers in the Civil War, contact Fitzpatrick at (313) 763-8856. Civil rights’ movement a lesson in local activism

Selma. Birmingham. Montgomery. Cities now famous as the launching pads for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement. But civil rights activists in these communities began their cause on a very small scale, according to U-M history Prof. J. Mills Thornton.

Thornton, whose forthcoming book chronicles the beginnings of the movement, says that people often view the civil rights movement of the 1960s as a cause with lofty, national ambitions; ambitions that led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. In reality, Thornton says, the civil rights movement stemmed from Black citizens who were interested in making a change in their own hometowns.

“Blacks in these communities had the sense that things were changing in the local political climate, and that it was a time to strike, to make their concerns known to their local leaders,” Thornton says.

Later, leaders like King used the local activism in Birmingham, Selma and Montgomery to spark a nationwide fight for racial equality.

To talk more with Thornton about the civil rights movement, call him at (313) 647-4874 or at (313) 769-7363. African Americans in today’s workplace

Today’s recruitment of minorities and women to the workplace focuses too much on numbers, and not enough on the need for effective retention plans, according to U-M education Prof. Percy Bates.

“If there’s a revolving door and the numbers are the same but there are just different faces coming in, the system is not working,” he says.

Bates believes that tailored mentoring programs in the workplace for new employees is one way to combat the problem. Without such programs, he says, it may be too late for advancement by the time new employees understand the system. He adds that a number of established mentoring programs fail because they are not highly specific to the demands of the job.

For more information, Bates can be reached at (313) 763- 9910. Increasing numbers of Blacks in government left powerless

Although the number of Black officials in government has grown over the past few years, African Americans remain powerless in law-making decisions, according to U-M political science Prof. Hanes Walton. He says that the rising number of Blacks elected to government today is a result of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s efforts to fight for African Americans’ constitutional rights in 1965.

“The problem we (African Americans) have is power, not rights,” Walton says. Because most minorities lack governmental power and influence, especially African Americans, the possibility of a future Black president remains uncertain, he adds. Contact Walton at (313) 936-1768 or (313) 763-6279. Societal prejudices toward interracial marriages persist

“In the United States, people still see two divided races: white people and people of color. These societal prejudices are a real issue for interracial marriages,” says U-M social work and psychology Prof. Oscar A. Barbarin. He says that most people see interracial marriages as “unusual” and “violating the norm,” with these prejudices often creating pressure for interracial couples and their children.

Barbarin says children may often feel discomfort in their parents’ racial communities, but children with parents of different races have an advantage in understanding and respecting other cultures. Although Barbarin finds that the majority of kids from mixed-marriages are well-adjusted to society, the teaching of parents remains significant in children’s perceptions of discrimination and racism. Barbarin is an expert on the influence of diversity on African-American and South African children.

He can be reached at (313) 763-7778 or by e-mail at Contacts: Janet Nellis Mendler or Melissa Kowalis
Phone: (313) 647-1848 (313) 936-7292

Prof. James StandiferProf. Robert TaylorProf. Oscar A.