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Campus Cotton Club

Celebrating black culture from the 17th through the 20th centuries, the Organization of Black Students presented “Throughout Time,” its third annual cultural show, on April 24 in Mandel Hall. The evening began with dinner in Hutch Commons, transformed by OBS into an atmosphere reminiscent of Harlem’s renowned Cotton Club, combining Caribbean and soul food with plenty of music and dancing.

The Organization of Black Students was formed more than 30 years ago as a support group and cultural outlet for black students on campus. According to its mission statement, events like the annual, open-to-the-public cultural program are intended to contribute to the pursuit of multicultural expression and understanding.

Event co-coordinator Athaliah Watkins, a second-year pre-med student, says the show provides a way for the U of C’s black community to come together and to be proud of who they are, as well as where they came from. “We must never forget those who paid the price for the position we hold today,” she says.

Co-coordinator and fourth-year English concentrator Linara Washington agrees that the show does carry a political message. “The show said that we were a conquered people who went through a lot, and we can forgive but we can’t forget,” she explains. “The show was a way to honor ourselves and the people who fought for us.”

During the program, OBS members wearing red bow ties and white shirts served up jerk chicken, greens, yams, and red beans and rice. Dinner was followed by a dozen dances by OBS members, kicking off with the gumboot, created by migrant laborers in South Africa’s mines as a way to pay homage to the families they had left behind and as a means of communication. Gumboot dancing is now a form of entertainment—and competition—popularly known as “stepping.”

The show also carried the audience of 300 through the days of black slavery, the emergence of swing dance in black dance halls, and the creation of jazz in African-American communities. OBS members incorporated the Black Panther movement and Motown music into depictions of black political and cultural revolutions. One Motown music act featured a medley of Jackson 5 songs performed by OBS members, including “I Want You Back,” “ABC,” and “Who’s Lovin’ You.”

Fourth-year Abby Chua, a Law, Letters, & Society concentrator, applauded the show’s display of popular culture: “The show was accessible to the audience because African culture has influenced American culture in so many ways.”

The final set of acts portrayed modern black culture, with Caribbean dances, rhythm and blues music, and interpretive dance. The Caribbean dance series featured salsa and merengue dancing set to Puerto Rican reggae and underground music, all influenced by African rhythms.

Students like that OBS approached black culture in a historical context. “It was wonderful watching how black culture moved through time and how it wasn’t static,” said Purvi Patel, a third-year biology concentrator. “It transformed, it changed, it was reinvented.”—J.P.

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