Catawba’s Community Forum tackles race in America

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 2, 2017

Catawba College News Bureau

SALISBURY — The Catawba College Community Forum for February will focus on Black History Month with a pairing of programs that examines the current debate over national priorities.

The theme is “Race in America: Where do we go from here?”

Two forum programs will be held on campus Thursday, Feb. 9, as part of a more general conversation that will continue on the next day in Davidson and Mooresville.

Eleanor Roosevelt

The first program on Thursday, Feb. 9, at 11 a.m. in Omwake-Dearborn Chapel, will pay honor to one of the pioneers of multi-cultural tolerance in American history.

“2017 is the 75th anniversary of the visit of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to Salisbury and Kannapolis to call attention to the promise of equal opportunity for all Americans,” said Dr. Gary Freeze, Catawba College historian and professor of history.

Freeze is a coordinator of the event.

“This was the most significant trip Mrs. Roosevelt made in the summer of 1942 to promote the promise of the New Deal,” Freeze said.

“She came to Livingstone College to encourage African Americans from across the nation to continue the struggle for inclusion in the American Dream, and she went to Kannapolis to carry the same message that everyone who works deserves fair treatment and the encouragement to advance themselves. At Livingstone and Cannon Mills, she found positive movements in those directions.”

To highlight the observance, Salisbury will be hosting Nina Roosevelt Gibson, Eleanor Roosevelt’s granddaughter, who has worked for decades to keep alive the aspirations her family has had for all Americans.

Gibson, who lives in Arizona, will be visiting the same places that were part of the 1942 visit and will be the principal speaker at the chapel forum that Thursday morning.

Joining Gibson will be the person responsible for the overall program of the two days. The Rev. Vincent Huntley is a resident of the Davidson area and has worked and lived in Salisbury.

Huntley, who works in Cornelius, has been active in the promotion of funding for area youth education and community action.

“His enthusiasm and activism so inspired Mrs. Gibson that she agreed to come to our area to help us remember how her grandmother laid down the groundwork to help us talk to one another” Freeze noted.

“The social issues that have engulfed the nation in the last year or so inspired Vince to have this area of the Piedmont be a pioneer in a national conversation,” said Catawba College philosopher and assistant professor of philosophy, Dr. Seth Holtzman, coordinator for the Community Forum. “We hope that our Forum can be a starting point for further ways of dealing with the conflicts and issues we all must face up to.”

Joining Gibson and Huntley in the chapel will be Shannon Sullivan, a philosophy professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

‘Good White People’

Sullivan will also be the principal speaker for the main Community Forum event, slated in Tom Smith Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9.

Dr. Sullivan’s recent book, “Good White People: The Problem with Middle Class White Anti-racism,” has earned national attention and several awards.

“Shannon’s take on race has created a lot of conversation and a bit of controversy,” said Holtzman.

“We think this program has the potential to advance our understanding of social trends, both for the college community and the greater Salisbury area. This may become one of the best forums ever.”

After Sullivan’s talk, Rev. Huntley will provide a contextual response that Holtzman and Freeze hope will generate the types of questions and discussions that have been the hallmark of community forums in the past. Gibson will also speak and be available for a post-program get-together in the atrium of the Ketner Building on campus.

All three guests will also be honored at a luncheon hosted by the Black Student Union at Catawba, where a small group of students from both Catawba and Livingstone will have an opportunity to talk over the issues.

Both the 11 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. forums are open to the public, with no admission charge.

The public can also attend a repeat of the forum program at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 10,  at St. Therese Catholic Church in Mooresville, aimed at residents from the southern Iredell and northern Mecklenburg counties area.

At that parish dinner, Gibson, Sullivan and Huntley will reprise a similar discussion, and Freeze will speak briefly about the Iredell connection to the Roosevelts, when he pays tribute to sculptor Selma Burke, a Mooresville native who carved one of the first busts of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.