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Whitworth and Gonzaga Professors Collaborate to Raise Awareness of African-American Culture in Spokane

The rich history of black people in Spokane came into focus for Whitworth students involved in a service-learning project cataloguing photos as part of a recent African-American Literature class. The class, which was team-taught by Whitworth English Professor Doug Sugano and Bob Bartlett, director of cultural affairs at Gonzaga University, exposed the students to a variety of African-American literature, sociological perspectives of African-American society, and views of multiculturalism.

"The goal of the class," Sugano says, "was to offer the students a new way to view black American culture apart from black athletes, movie and music stars--people who are black, but certainly do not represent the lives of most black Americans."

Barlett and Sugano thought it was important for the students to connect what they were learning in the classroom to the local community by taking part in a service-learning project at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, which houses several photo collections documenting black history in Spokane.

"We wanted the class to understand that Spokane is not an all-white enclave," Sugano says. "There has been a real and vibrant black community here since the turn of the century."

Each Friday, students traveled to the museum to catalogue photographs taken by Wally Hagin, a black photographer who contributed a large collection of his life's work to the museum, and Carl Maxie, a local black attorney and avid photographer. Hagin and Maxie's work includes photos of U.S. Cavalry troops at Fort George Wright, police officers, politicians and church congregations.

Bartlett hopes that by making these archives accessible to the public, the photos will raise awareness of black culture in Spokane.

"Few people in Spokane have any idea of the African-American presence and their contributions as a people to this community," he says. "A complete and thoroughly documented African-American photo collection will be of great value to the entire community."

Bartlett plans to apply for a grant that will fund the full development of the project begun by Whitworth students. He would like to use grant funding to transfer the photos and accompanying narratives to CD-ROM, which could then be used by teachers in the Spokane area. Bartlett may also establish a traveling photo exhibit, which could be set up for public viewing in community centers and in prominent locations in Spokane.

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