WEB EXCLUSIVE! Forum issue hits close to home

by Sharon Albright

Simpson begins its recognition of Black History Month with a prominent historian’s take on race relations and how African American history is American history.

Dr. Anna-Lisa Cox, a Scholar in Residence at the Newberry Library in Chicago, will be on campus Feb. 6 to share what she has learned through her specific studies of race relations in the Midwest. Her connection to this region made her a great candidate as a speaker to come to Simpson, according to John Fry, associate professor of history.

“Her message concerns everyone,” Fry said. “She looks at how race relations have and have not been successful in the past, and we all need to hear this and see what we can learn from it.”

Cox, may surprise her audience with some of what she has learned.

“Iowa was considered a hotbed of racial tension in the nineteenth century,” Cox said. “Iowa had laws making it illegal for African Americans to settle in the state.”

Cox grew up in a rural Michigan community with a low African American population. She said that it was a common belief there, too, that African Americans just chose not to settle there. But, in truth, the state had some of the same laws that Iowa had in place that made it difficult for African Americans to move into the area years ago.

Cox points out that these aspects of history contribute to the current living conditions for people in this area.

“The empty spaces and the silences can tell as powerful stories about race relations as the occupied places and loud voices,” Cox said.

Fry met Cox while they pursued their PhDs at different universities. Fry is aware that Cox has also found some examples of positive early race relations through her studies.

“It’s really neat stuff that she has dug up,” Fry said. ” For instance, she has done a social history of a town in Michigan that was surprisingly integrated in the nineteenth century. There were a number of white Americans and African Americans there who sent their kids to the same schools, belonged to the same churches and elected blacks to offices within the township.”

“It’s new for historians to be writing about this,” Fry said.

By connecting the past with the present, Cox said that she hopes to leave a lasting impression on her listeners.

“I want to express that ‘Black History’ is not just about the cotton fields of Mississippi, or the streets of Chicago; it is about the farms of Iowa and the woods of Michigan as well,” Cox said.

Cox will speak at the Simpson Forum event titled “Were There Race Relations? The Surprising History of Race Relations in Nineteenth Century Midwest” at 7 p.m. Feb. 6 in Lekberg Hall. The event is free and open to the public.

Be prepared for more events to celebrate Black History Month, which is recognized across North America during the month of February.