February 2023 Volume 12, Issue 2

Dear Howard University Community,

In case you missed it, Black History Month started this year with some particularly discouraging news: Florida has disqualified a collection of books and other reading materials from its advanced placement African American studies course, including works from our own Toni Morrison, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and a host of other acclaimed Black writers. Even more, on the first day of Black History Month last year, over a dozen historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) including our own were forced to close and cancel classes after receiving bomb threats.
These recent efforts at invalidating critical race theory and other forms of Africana studies are absolutely disheartening, but they are certainly not novel. For decades if not centuries, there has been a tug-of-war in this country about which topics are appropriate to include in academic curricula, especially as it pertains to African American history. Still today, college campuses nationwide are being targeted by conservatives who believe students should not be exposed to the historical treatment of Black people and other minority groups within the United States of America.
This attempted erasure of our history only underscores the fact that Black history is American history, and that our stories deserve to be heard. We need to have these difficult conversations between people with divergent backgrounds, because the alternative is inadequate communication, and therefore much more division. Howard University has never been a place to stifle discourse; our commitment to truth as a core value has demanded a willingness to listen and engage with perspectives that we may find disagreeable. This campus has traditionally provided a platform to anyone willing to speak truth to power, and I anticipate that level of acceptance will continue – if not expand – for as long as our beloved University exists.
An attack on Black history is a direct attack on Howard University and the myriad HBCUs founded to eliminate inequities related to race, color, social, economic, or political circumstances. While our institutions have massively contributed to any and all progress on those fronts, we still have much more to accomplish to fully eradicate these injustices, and that cannot happen by pretending they are problems of the distant past or, even worse, choosing to ignore them altogether. It is imperative moving forward that we take a fuller stand and be bold that Black history is American history, too, and I am grateful that Howard University lives at the forefront of that movement.

Excellence in Truth and Service,

Wayne A. I. Frederick, M.D., MBA 
Charles R. Drew Professor of Surgery 

Feature Stories
Rare books librarian Christina Vortia

The Moorland-Spingarn Research Center rings book lover, media specialist Christina Vortia as Rare Books Librarian

At her core, Christina Vortia is the typical Black girl book lover, a fan of the historic librarians who preserved that authenticity of the Black experience. And now she is Moorland-Spingarn Research Center's first rare books librarian in over a decade.

As a rare books librarian, Vortia will also be working with MSRC's partners like the Library of Congress to assist with the preservation process.


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The Historic Speakers of Rankin Chapel

Luminaries from archbishops to American presidents have graced the Rankin Chapel pulpit, inarguably one of the most historically significant platforms in our nation's history.

Constructed between 1894 and 1895 and officially dedicated in 1896, the humble edifice situated adjacent to Founders Library has welcomed the world's greatest orators, men and women who have descended specifically upon the Howard University campus for some of their most famous speeches and sermons.


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Dean Benjamin Mays and students of the Howard University School of Religion, 1939-1940

Howard's School of Divinity administration reflects on achievement and transformation

As part of Howard's legacy of pushing Black scholars forward, its School of Divinity works to marry spiritual and religious teaching together with an immersive experience of scholarship.

"Like the rest of Howard University, [the School of Divinity] is committed to developing scholars and professionals who lead change, help to solve the world's problems, and embody truth and service in all that they do," says Dean Yolanda Pierce, PhD.


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Former Howard University President Mordecai Wyatt Johnson

The Story of Howard University's First Black President, Mordecai Wyatt Johnson

For the first 59 years of Howard University's existence, its presidents were white ministers. When Howard University's first Black president took office in 1926, perhaps no one was more surprised than the man selected for the historic role: Mordecai Wyatt Johnson, then 36 years old, previously insisted that he not be considered as a candidate for the 11th Howard University president at all.

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Reflection by Dr. Frederick

Progress is rarely steady or linear, but with hard work, it is certainly achievable. If nothing else, today should serve as a reminder of the important role each and every one of us plays in shaping the direction of our country. As an institution with a rich history of producing leaders who have fought for civil rights and social justice, it is my sincere hope that Presidents Day is not simply a commemoration of America's uneven past, but a reflection on our civic responsibilities, and how we all must contribute to building a more just and equitable world moving forward.

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The Dig
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