Black History Month kicks off in Lenoir

Feb. 18, 2014 @ 11:04 AM

In Lenoir, as Black History Month gets off the ground, organizers are working to make a real impact on the area’s youth, keeping the focus on history that’s close to home.
Lester Whittington, supervisor of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center, said this year the focus is on students, educating them about the history of the black community in Caldwell County and working to get young people involved in carrying on the community’s legacy.
Something new this year is a community blood drive, trying to get the African-American community involved in giving blood in honor of Black History Month.
Whittington said he wants the black community in Lenoir to play a larger part in giving blood and has been going to churches and schools to encourage people to give. He already had more than 50 people signed up by the end of last week.
An essay contest, quiz bowl and portrait contest among middle and high school students highlight the month, with the focus on black history that’s closer to home. If an essay is turned in on Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcolm X, Whittington said, it will be disqualified, saying that essays should focus on local black history.
“There’s history here the kids need to know about,” he said. “For me, I think the youth of today do not know our history, the struggles of our forefathers.”
The Rev. Jimmie Norwood is a living example of that history, recalling that when he worked at J.C. Penney he couldn’t drink out of the same water fountain as whites at the store, and movie theaters didn’t have bathrooms for blacks.
Whittington said he doesn’t think kids in the community are aware that there used to be a black-only school, Freedman High, and he wants to teach them about the first black homecoming queen, firefighter and police officer. He said that’s the type of history that will be in the quiz bowl this year.
Whittington and Norwood spoke about the black community that used to exist in Lenoir that is all but lost on today’s youths, including a library that Whittington’s grandmother directed, service stations and a doctor’s office. Norwood said the hospital at the time had a section for blacks, and if it was full the only option was to head to Morganton or some other hospital.
“My biggest thing is trying to keep the youth involved,” Whittington said. “If I can make a difference in just one child’s life, it would mean a lot to me.”
Norwood, 78, has been sketching and painting all his life, and the works on display show different examples of ink, watercolor and oil works, everything from military scenes to Japanese-inspired works, nature scenes and a portrait of President Barack Obama. It takes about a week to complete the paintings, he said, and he makes the frames himself — he is a skilled woodworker who has built cabinets, worked as a maintenance tech for Bernhardt Furniture and builds pieces for churches in the area. Throughout February, his artwork is on display at the MLK Center.