Center Co-Sponsors Black History Month Event

Honoring Black History Month: Education called key to achievement

By Hayley Kappes \ El Paso Times
Posted:   02/12/2012 11:06:58 AM MST


Actor Phil Darius Wallace, who portrays Frederick Douglass, says… (Victor Calzada / El Paso Times)

When actor Phil Darius Wallace steps on stage as Frederick Douglass, he feels the struggles and successes the abolitionist movement leader encountered.

Wallace performed his one-man show “Self-Made Man: The Bondage and Freedom of Frederick Douglass,” which he also wrote and produced, Saturday night at the El Paso Community College’s Transmountain Campus Forum Theatre.

About 200 people attended the performance, which was one of several events at the college commemorating Black History Month.

In the show, which he has performed for the past 10 years, Wallace portrays Douglass during his early life as a slave on plantations in Maryland until when he ran away in 1838.

The performance focuses on Douglass’ exorcism of his past demons as a slave and his finding a way to release his past by forgiving his former master and reconfirming for himself that freedom foremost is a state of mind, Wallace said.

“I believe mainly that he was able to overcome his given limitations through the power of reading and writing and utilized that same power to achieve a lot of great things in life,” Wallace said. “It’s kind of a universal lesson for all of us that we don’t have to allow for the limitations put before us to keep us from achieving our dreams and goals.”

Portraying Douglass in the show throughout the country every year is one of the ways Wallace, who lives in Memphis, Tenn., celebrates Black History Month.

The monthlong celebration of the contributions and achievements of black Americans began as a way to remember Douglass’ work to abolish slavery.”I think that it would be even better if we could learn how to celebrate African-American men and women throughout the year,” Wallace said. “It really is American history.”

Mark Norbeck, associate professor of history at EPCC’s Rio Grande Campus, in 2009 saw Wallace deliver one of Douglass’ speeches in Salem, Mass., at the same building where the abolitionist once spoke.

Norbeck called it one of the most powerful things he had ever seen and he wanted to bring that history to life for students in El Paso.

Through help from the Center for History Teaching and Learning at the University of Texas at El Paso, 400 teachers in the area were invited to the performance and encouraged to bring their students.

“The great irony of American history is that we aimed to have the freest society in the entire world and yet we brought in slavery. That’s something that we have worked hard to get over. The Civil War cost us 625,000 men dying to make them free. But after 1877 they still weren’t free. They had their rights taken away from Jim Crow laws, so the result is it took another savage time to overcome that,” Norbeck said.

Margaret D. Morgan, a history and social studies teacher at Capt. Walter E. Clark Middle School in the Socorro Independent School District, attended the performance because she wanted to learn more about Douglass. She said she admires his ability to teach himself to read and write and eventually escape slavery.

“He went on to be a very highly educated man,” Morgan said. “He’s very influential in American history, and I think students need to know that education is so important.”

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