Black History Month is being recognized in Merced County. ‘We have a direct connection to the spirit’

On February 9, 2024 by Christian De Jesus Betancourt – CVJC
Joyce Dale looks at a piece of art she donated to be put up for display at the Merced Civic Center. The art pieces showcased throughout the lobby were donated by Mercedians to show their pride during Black History Month.  Photo Christian De Jesus Betancourt/CVJC

Several events are scheduled locally to celebrate the historically significant month

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Although Black History Month is recognized annually during the month of February, there’s no doubt the contributions of Black people to the foundation of the United States are significant all year around.

From Frederick Douglass to Condoleezza Rice, Black Americans have distinguished themselves across the board as leaders, architects, intellectuals, artists, writers, athletes, inventors, mathematicians and so much more. 

That dynamic history is not lost on longtime Merced resident Cheryl Lockett, the daughter of Kenny Craig, the late guitar player of the legendary rock band “The Merced Blue Notes.”

Lockett, an accomplished singer and musician in her own right, spends many days in her downtown Merced music studio, passing down her love and knowledge of music to future generations.

She showcases her voice through jazz and blues – styles of music that came to fruition thanks to Black American musicians like James Reese Europe, Ma Rainey and Charley Patton

“I need our cultural presence to be here,” she said. “We came from old gospel music … and it formed into jazz and blues. It’s our roots. It’s the Black experience. We have a direct connection to the spirit.”

“From my great-grandfather, all the way down to their fathers on both sides of my family, was the music and the visual arts,” Lockett added. “It’s something that was gifted to us naturally from the creator. We have our own sound.”

That level of musical appreciation and emotional vibration will be displayed when Lockett is featured during the Sixth Annual UC Merced Global Arts Studies Program Faculty and Friends Global Arts in Concert. 

The event is scheduled for 7 p.m. Feb. 15 at the Multicultural Art Center at 645 W. Main Street in downtown Merced. The celebration will be preceded by a 5:45 p.m. reception at the MAC. 

The Multicultural Arts Center is also hosting a community-created exhibition celebrating Black History through March 3.

Several art pieces showcasing Black history are displayed at the Multicultural Arts Center in Merced during a community-created exhibition celebrating Black history through March 3.  Photo by Christian De Jesus Betancourt/CVJC

In Merced County, Black history goes back to before the Civil War. According to historian Sarah Lim, during the mid-1800s Blacks came to this region and California as enslaved persons, while others arrived as free settlers. They made great strides to succeed despite the numerous obstacles of legalized racism in their path.  

Through the years, Merced County has recognized many historic milestones. Some of those essential moments include the rise of Merced’s first Black mayor, Sam Pipes in 1983 and the visit by first lady Michelle Obama to UC Merced for the university’s 2009 commencement.

There’s also the story of the late Charles Ogletree, a Merced native who rose from poverty to become a respected Harvard Law professor.

Black History Month was officially recognized by U.S. President Gerald Ford in 1976, following the efforts of scholar Carter G. Woodson.

Woodson was dedicated to celebrating the historical contributions of Black people when he launched Negro History Week in 1926 during the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of 16th American President Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. 

Black History Month was inspired by Woodson’s idea. 

“Black History Month showcases how African Americans have contributed to the making of America for over 400 years, since 1619,” said Kevin Dawson, an associate professor of history at UC Merced. 

“So, even while our ancestors were forcibly brought to America, the focus is not on slavery or the slave trade, but rather on African Americans’ accomplishments and contributions.”

Local activist Tamara Cobb walks past an art piece showcasing Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on display at the Merced Civic Center. The art pieces showcased throughout the lobby were donated by Mercedians to show their pride during Black History Month.  Photo Christian De Jesus Betancourt/CVJC

Several organizations in the area are planning events to continue to showcase Black History during the month of February:

The First Baptist Church of Los Banos, 809 D Street, is celebrating Black history by holding worship in African dress each Sunday starting at 11 a.m., with a surprise on Feb. 25.

Merced College is hosting a myriad of events throughout the month. For more information, visit their calendar of events.

The Merced NAACP Movies at the Mainzer will feature movies each Saturday at 6:30 p.m. The movie 13th is on Feb. 10, “They Cloned Tyrone” on Feb. 17, and “Till” is on Feb. 24. All movies will have no cost through a collaboration with Merced College. Seating is limited to the first 50 people.

On Feb. 10, the Merced County NAACP is planning a train trip to Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park for a literacy Black History Month Event.

On Feb 17, the Merced County NAACP, in conjunction with the Merced County Historical Society, will host the program, “The African-American Firefighter” starting at 1:30 p.m. at the Merced County Museum on 21st and N streets.

An art display for Black History Month honoring the past and inspiring the future will be on display at Merced Civic Center, 678 W. 18th St., through Feb. 28.


Christian De Jesus Betancourt is the bilingual communities reporter at The Merced FOCUS, a nonprofit newsroom. The Merced FOCUS is part of the Central Valley Journalism Collaborative.

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