Black History Month is celebrated with stories and song

Prayer and poetry, spoken words, song, dance and fellowship were in abundance as parishes and schools around the diocese celebrated Black History Month in February.

St. Anne Church in Florence welcomed poet Nikky Finney during its celebration on Feb. 16. Finney is the John H. Bennett Jr. Chair in Southern Letters and Literature at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.

Finney was raised in the Pee Dee region and told stories about growing up during the civil rights movement. She admitted she didn’t like going to the store with her mother, who would openly confront people who treated her badly or ignored her.

It was only in later years, she said, that she learned the importance of her mother’s willingness to take a stand against inequality.

“What I didn’t know as a child and what I do know now is that sometimes a scene was needed,” Finney said.

“She had a great message for everyone in the audience, but especially for the young people,” said Denise Abraham, event organizer.

Praise dancers from Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Florence performed, and parishioners sang gospel music and read poems. Deacon Jim Johnson, one of the oldest members, talked about the history of St. Anne and its role in the community.

At St. Mary Church in Rock Hill, the celebration started with an African-style liturgy that included traditional drumming. Each Sunday, guest speakers shed light on different aspects of black history in York County, said Gwendolyn Finley, who handles parish communications. A man who works at the Brattonsville historic site in nearby McConnells portrayed one of the slaves owned by the Bratton family, and discussed the role slaves played in developing the land.

Parishioners over 85 were honored during Sunday Masses at St. Martin de Porres Church in Columbia, said member Dottie Ashford. Family members wrote biographies of the senior citizens and shared photos and other items related to their lives.

Students at St. Martin de Porres School dressed as their favorite figures from black history, including Mary McLeod Bethune, George Washington Carver and Harriet Tubman, said Sister Roberta Fulton, principal. Each class presented a historic scene and participated in the Black History Bowl. The students also learned about African-American Catholics being considered for sainthood: Venerable Henriette Delille, Father Augustus Tolton and Mother Mary Lange.

At St. Anthony of Padua School in Greenville, students presented “Past, Present and Our Future” on Feb. 28. The evening included traditional African dance and readings of poet Maya Angelou, and “What the Black Man Wants,” a speech by Frederick Douglass. The school’s choirs and recorder ensemble also played a tribute to Thomas Dorsey, the composer often called the father of black gospel music. Students also portrayed different historical figures and described their contributions.

One student dressed as Rep. Leola Robinson-Simpson, D-Greenville, who spoke after the program.

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